It’s estimated that 40-60% of all rebates are never redeemed, benefiting product manufacturers to the tune of millions of dollars. Too often people are discouraged by the paperwork, confused by the fine print, or simply forget to send in the form.

Every rebate is different, but they all have some sort of disclaimer, whether it’s a simple expiration date, something more limiting like being valid at certain resellers, or even truly onerous conditions that require a combination of purchases or even specify types of payment.

By following a few easy guidelines on the front-end and promptly submitting the paperwork after your purchase, you can come out ahead of the game.

Determine if the discount is coming from the store or the manufacturer

If the rebate is being offered by the store, you should be able to get a very clear idea of the parameters from the store itself, whether in person, at a location or on their website. If the discount/rebate is coming from the manufacturer, the store may not have all the information on it, but they should be able to direct you to find more details.

If the rebate form is online, print it out and read it carefully before purchasing the product

The rebate form may have specific dates, resellers or other qualifications that aren’t apparent on the website, but since this is the form you are sending in to receive the rebate, you should assume that the information on the form is more accurate than what might be on the seller’s website.

Do a quick internet search

Take advantage of the positive and negative experiences other people have had with the same rebate. Go to your search engine and type in something like “problems with rebate on product X bought at store Y.” If it’s a popular product, chances are someone has had a good or bad experience that you can learn from and not repeat their mistakes.

Read everything very carefully and make copies

Obviously, the most important thing when taking advantage of a rebate is to read the fine print, but in the world of online shopping, sometimes the challenge is to find the fine print.

Just because the webpage you’re on says “rebates on laptops” doesn’t mean there’s a rebate on the laptop you’re looking at. Never assume your product is eligible for a rebate – find the language that specifically says what the rebate is and what the terms are and print it out for your records. Read the product description carefully to be sure that it matches the rebate offer.

Rebate language to watch out for

  • Limited time offer –Know how long the rebate program will last, and make sure you will be able to complete the requirements in time, particularly if you are ordering online. Many, if not most, rebates are still processed through the mail, so you have to allow time to receive your product, fill out the form(s), and mail it back by the specified deadline.
  • Invoice/purchase date – If you order something on July 1 and the company is offering rebates on items purchased before July 3, you need to be sure that your credit card is charged before July 3. Many companies won’t charge your card until the product ships, so if your product ships on July 5, you will have effectively purchased it on July 5, and may not be eligible for the rebate.
  • Seller-specific rebates – Some manufacturer rebates are only available through specific retailers. Verify that the seller you are using is eligible and if they’re not, find out who is.
  • Government rebates – Energy efficient appliances are often advertised with rebates available from government agencies.  These can be substantial, but you need to do your homework to be sure that it applies in your state and that if the savings are in the form of a tax deduction, you have pay enough in taxes from which to deduct it. Also, count on there being a lot of paperwork.

Always remember:

  • Fill out the rebate form as soon as you can. Think of the rebate process as part of the purchase process and complete it as soon as possible.
  • Save the box.  Often the rebate calls for the original UPC code from the box the product came in.
  • Save copies of all your paperwork. If there’s a dispute about your rebate, having copies of everything in front of you will be invaluable. If the important language is online, take a screen shot of the page and/or print it out.

Rebates can save you hundreds of dollars, but only if you do your homework and read all the fine print. It can be a hassle — and a lot of companies are making money on people who never bother to claim their rebates — but that won’t be you if you just do a little prep work and then follow through.