Tips on how to best use rebate cards

LOS ANGELES A great rebate offer convinced shopper and consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky to buy some anti-virus software. He was surprised and aggravated when a plastic rebate debit card arrived in the mail.

"It is annoying to receive a prepaid card instead of a rebate check. You're expecting a check and you get the card and then it's difficult to use," said Dworsky.

Dworsky used the card the first time with no problem, but when he tried to buy something else the cashier told him he needed to know the exact dollar amount left on the card or he couldn't use it.

"This was a complete pain in the neck," said Dworsky.

We found that's just one glitch rebate card holders are griping about. Consumers Union says it's been getting complaints from people saying they've lost money due to maintenance fees, dormancy fees and expiration dates on the cards.

Another problem, though a lot of them look like gift cards and work like gift cards, which you purchase, they aren't regulated like gift cards.

"Gift cards for the most part have protections whether it be from state laws or federal laws," said Consumers Union attorney Michelle Jun. "Unfortunately, prepaid rebate cards do not have these protections, which means there aren't any restrictions on expiration dates or fees."

The rebate cards do come with "Terms and Conditions" in small type where all the fees are explained, and it's important to pay attention, as even the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association admits.

"As soon as it arrives read the conditions and activate the card," said Kirsten Trusko of Network Branded Prepaid Card Association.

And that's just one of the tips to getting every cent out of rebate cards. Here are a few more tips.

  • Spend the value immediately
  • Use before the expiration date
  • Some rebate cards allow you to deposit the value in a bank account

The Rebate Card Association says businesses issue rebates on plastic instead of paper as a convenience to shoppers.

"You give somebody a check and it's a guaranteed hassle. With this, as soon as you get the card activate it and you can use it right away," said Trusko.

But Dworsky says if you're a frequent rebate shopper, figuring out the fine print behind each card is the hassle. And if you don't know the secrets on how to squeeze every cent you're due from one of these cards you could be losing out.

"Know what the rules are and know that you have to find out the balance to the penny if you want to use up the card on something that's more expensive than what's left on the card," said Dworsky.

Many rebate cards have a toll free number to call or website to log onto so you can find the exact balance on your card. If you lose your rebate card or it's stolen, report that to the merchant immediately. They may re-issue you a card with the balance that is left on it at the time you report it.

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