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Fewer rebates offered, but deals are getting better

Seen any good rebates lately? Rebate offers are on the decline — a trend that’s been going on for several years. But the ones that are still available can help stretch your budget. 

The editors at dealnews.com recently analyzed the numbers and found that manufacturers are opting for quality over quantity.

"While the sheer number of rebates is going down, we've found that the number of high-quality rebate deals is going up,” said Lindsay Sakraida, features director at dealnews.

In my book, that’s good news, because mail-in rebates are a pain. Who wants to go to all that work for just a few cents, knowing that in many cases the rebate check will never arrive?

Thankfully, many rebates can now be done online. Sakraida says Web-based rebates have become more popular with visitors to the dealnews site.

“People are more willing to click on the rebate deal because they're a better value,” she told me. “Deals that require rebates these days are giving you an all-time low price or a rare discount, so consumers are a little bit more willing to put up with that extra step."

The dealnews analysis shows tech products most often have high-value rebates. That’s especially true with solid state hard drives right now. So far this year, nearly half of the rebate offers on these hard drives gave shoppers best-ever prices, or close to them, for their respective storage capacity.

Rebates are still popular on computer software. It’s not uncommon to find “free after rebate” offers — the ultimate prize for a savvy shopper — on security software.

For example, right now at newegg.com Symantec has a free after-rebate offer on Norton Antivirus 2013. You pay $35 and get a $35 prepaid card by mail. Buy Bitdefender Total Security 2013 at FRYs.com and you make a penny. You pay $49.99 (shipping is free) and get $50 back after the mail-in rebate. Both of these offers expire on Nov. 1.

Be advised: The rebates for some “free” software deals are only good if you upgrade from one version of that program to another.

The bottom line

Free money is always good, so it would be silly not to take advantage of a rebate offer. But it’s just as foolish to buy something with a rebate and not claim your money back.

Manufacturers love it when customers don’t follow through. They count on the fact that a significant percentage of shoppers will be attracted to the “after rebate” price, but forget to submit the rebate claim. Don’t leave this money sitting on the table.

The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips for successfully claiming a rebate:

  • Follow the instructions on the rebate form and enclose all required documentation in the envelope when filing for a rebate.
  • Make a copy of all paper work to be mailed when applying for a rebate. It's the only record you will have of the transaction if anything goes wrong.
  • Contact the company if the rebate doesn't arrive within the time promised.
  • If the rebate never arrives or arrives late, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general or the local Better Business Bureau.

What have you found when you go shopping? Are the rebates worth your time or too much of a hassle?

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook or visit The ConsumerMan website.