Is Your Rebate Check Really a Gift Card?

Paper checks are in the process of disappearing from the financial landscape. And it’s no wonder: Plastic is much easier to carry around, and electronic payment options for bill pay are more convenient in many ways. The checks that you write for bills are not the only things disappearing. Many companies are moving away from issuing rebate checks in favor of issuing gift cards.

The main issue that many have with the whole gift card concept is that most of us, when we send in the paperwork for a rebate, expect to see something we can just put in a bank account. A rebate in the form of a gift card forces us to spend that rebate — increasing the chance that we will actually end up spending more.

Watch Out for Fees

When the rebate is issued in the form of a gift card at the retailer, you usually do not have to worry about fees and expiration dates — although you may have to worry about the company folding and rendering your rebate gift card useless.

The real problems crop up when the retailer issues a rebate in the form of a bank gift card. These are gift cards with a credit card logo on them, and they function a lot like debit cards. Unfortunately, some of these rebate cards come with expiration dates and even fees. You may have to pay a couple dollars a month if you have not used the card by a specific time, eroding the value of your rebate.

What You Can Do

The best thing you can do is first double check to see what form the rebate will take. Some companies are still allowing you to choose a paper check — if you jump through a couple extra hoops. Find out whether you have an option, and if you would rather have the check, do what you can to get it.

If you do not have a choice, use the rebate card as soon as possible. Carefully plan your purchase so that you are buying something you had planned on buying anyway. When I knew a rebate gift card for Staples was on its way, I waited a couple of weeks to get the new chair I’d had my eye on for my home office, and put the rebate money toward that purchase, lowering the price. If your rebate is coming in the form of a bank card, you can use to help buy groceries some week, or put it toward an online purchase you have had your eye on.

2 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Jesse September 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm -

    I HATE giftcard rebates! Even if they come in the form of a Visa giftcard and can be used anywhere, I end up losing them and that money too. I guess you could always sell the giftcards at a reduced rate on eBay or whatever but they are a pain for sure.

  2. JoeTaxpayer September 4, 2010 at 11:16 am -

    My first rule of rebate cards? They get used on very next grocery store visit. Or if they are low enough, a fixed price gas purchase. Jesse is right. Too easy to lose, or lose track of balance.

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