Mastering the mail-in rebate

Rebates can save you cash, but only if you know how to use them. Avoid common pitfalls with this simplified guide to rebates.

Mail-in rebates can take the sting out of big-ticket purchases such as televisions, cell phones and other electronics. But if you forget to send in the form or your claim is denied, you could end up spending more than if you bought a similar item on sale. Follow the tips below to ensure your savings.

Know yourself: Having success with rebates requires painstaking attention to detail and follow-through. Think about whether you’re likely to put off reading the instructions, miss the deadline or lose the receipt. If it’s a possibility, don’t take rebates into consideration when you’re hunting for the best price.

Be timely: Some rebate companies give you only seven days from the purchase date to submit your claim and 10 additional days for them to receive it. The best way to ensure that your claim arrives before the expiration date is to send all the required paperwork on the day you buy the product.

Make copies: To protect yourself against lost mail or to dispute a rejected rebate, make a copy of all submission materials—including the stamped envelope, completed forms, UPC code and rebate center contact information—and mail your submission with return receipt requested.

Track it: Mark your calendar (and set a reminder) for the expected arrival date of your rebate so you’ll know to keep an eye out for it (and so you can call if it doesn’t show up). Rebate checks often come in envelopes that look a lot like junk mail, so be sure to sort your incoming mail carefully.

Opt for online: Sears, Staples and other retailers let customers submit rebates on their websites, reducing the chance of human error and eliminating your postage cost.

Know where to find the best deals: You can locate rebate promotions in Sunday newspaper inserts, on in-store displays and on product packages. Target and other large retailers post rebates on their website; pricegrabber.com also lists current rebates for electronics, appliances, computers, furniture and other categories. For smaller grocery rebates, check freeafterrebate.us.