Many people don't file for rebates

LOS ANGELES Shoppers redeem billions of dollars worth of money-back offers every year. However, a new survey from /*Consumer Reports*/ shows a staggering amount of mail-in rebates go unclaimed.

If you've been shopping lately, you've seen the rebate offers, such as $100 back on a refrigerator or $700 back on a washer and dryer.

/*Rebates*/ can be powerful incentives to convince people to make a purchase, but Consumer Reports' Tod Marks says not everyone takes advantage of them.

"Many people just can't be bothered. And that's money in the bank for manufacturers, which is why they like them so much," said Marks.

A nationwide Consumer Reports' survey of 1,000 adults shows 25 percent never take advantage of available rebates. Many say the rebates require too many steps or the dollar value is too small. Others say they missed the deadline or they were simply skeptical they'd get their money.

"Well, that skepticism is really well deserved. In our survey, one in five people didn't get the rebate they applied for, or were disqualified for some technicality," said Marks.

Consumer Reports' advice: first try to get a good price without a rebate. But if a rebate is offered, get ready to do some work.

"Companies don't necessarily make it easy to get that rebate. And the higher the dollar value, the more hoops you have to jump through," said Marks.

Be sure to copy everything, in case your claim is lost or rejected. You also want to mail your paperwork right away, before the deadline.

When looking for your rebate check, sort through your mail carefully as rebate checks look a lot like junk mail. Consumer Reports says it's also a good idea to mark your calendar a few weeks ahead of when your refund is due so you're on the lookout for it.

If you have a problem with a rebate, contact the company. And if the problem isn't resolved to your satisfaction, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the attorney general in the state where the company is based.

Filing for a rebate can take a little effort, which means maybe 'free money' isn't really free after all.

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