How to Win the Rebate Game

Rule No. 1: Know thyself. Rule No. 2: Don't procrastinate (see Rule No. 1).

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Be honest with yourself. When comparing products, consider the rebate price only if you are sure you will mail in the paperwork. Most people think they will but don't.

Don't delay. Many people get distracted or procrastinate and never file for the rebate. "Have the discipline to self-impose a deadline. Say you only have one day," recommends Tim Silk of the University of British Columbia.

Make sure you use the correct bar code. Many mail-in rebates require cutting out and sending in the UPC code, but some people confuse that code with others on the box. When in doubt, call the company or mail in both codes.

Follow directions. If the rebate requires an original sales receipt, a copy may get rejected. Some rebates require a street address and will reject PO boxes. "We hear of people who thought they were doing everything right but get rejected on a technicality," says Greg Daugherty, executive editor of Consumer Reports.

Make copies. Before mailing off the form, keep copies and mark the due date in your calendar, so you can follow up if you don't hear anything. If you think you have been unfairly treated by a company even after following up, then you can lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which tracks complaints about rebates, or your state's attorney general.

Keep an eye on the mail. Some rebate checks look like junk mail or a postcard—don't throw them out.