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Some cell phone dealers make customers wait for 180 days after activation before the customer can apply for the rebate. The providers say it is because they lose their commissions if the account is closed in the first 180 days. Often customers forget to apply six months later or throw out some of the necessary paperwork by then. If your rebate has a 180-day requirement, make sure you set up a reminder or mark your calendar for that date six months ahead.
What happens if your rebate check never arrives? There are a few things you can do:
* Double-check your mail as you might have overlooked the check. Search through your "junk mail" pile and double check unopened envelopes. Some rebates may appear in envelopes that look smiliar to junk mail, but instead contain your money.
* It's possible your rebate check hasn't arrived. You should contact the manufacturer of the cell phone, or the rebate fulfillment company, and ask when the check will be mailed, or why the check has been delayed. If the cell phone dealer issued the rebate, you should work directly with them.
* If the payment doesn't come, you should write a letter to the cell phone maker and document your communication.
* The last resort is to contact the Better Business Bureau. You can also talk to the consumer affairs department of your Attorney General's office in the state where you reside.
Rebates on cell phone purchases come in different forms. Cingular, for example, gives rebates in the form of debit cards that can be used like cash. These days, you can use debit/credit cards for almost anything -- paying bills, buying groceries, etc. Still, the card will not go into your bank account and it can be tough to spend the exact amount on the card. These cards come with an expiration date. Use them or lose them.
So you want a new cell phone and you don't want to pay any money out of pocket. What can you do? Look for cell phones that are "free out the door," also commonly known as "free up front."
You'll have to sign a new contract. And you'll need to do a little research to find out which cell phones qualify.
But make sure the discount for signing the contract equals the cost of the cell phone you choose.
Often, these cell phones will include a mail-in rebate, which can actually make you $50 if you fill it in and mail it off on time. Think of that as bonus money. You might get it and you might not. But you will get a phone for no money out of pocket, which is what you wanted in the first place.
If you've experienced problems with your mail-in rebates for cell phones, there are a few things you can do:
* Tell your phone provider that you prefer a straight discount worth the same amount as a rebate. The provider can decline your request, and you are entitled to go to another provider.
* If you do choose to use a cell phone rebate, make sure the manufacturer knows your concerns. Write a letter, or make a phone call to the company.
Many companies will promote offers for free phones after rebate or phones with a rebate that actually makes you money (This happens when rebates and deals combine to add up to more than what you actually paid for the phone).
Look for the words "after rebate" before you buy and then make sure you understand exactly what you have to do to get your rebate and how long you have to wait to get it.
There's a reason why manufacturers want the receipt, a proof of purchase sale from the box, etc. As few as 5 percent of buyers successfully claim rebates. The rest have good intentions, but forget to make the claim, file it too late, or don't complete it correctly.
Bottom line: That free phone won't be free if you don't claim the rebate. And be prepared to pay meticulous attention to the requirements, and make copies of everything.
Your rebate can come from the cell phone manufacturer, service provider, or third-party retailer. Either way, you likely will need to sign up for at least a year, sometimes two years, to get the promised rebate.
You do not need to sign a new contract if you don't want a rebate on a cell phone. You can stay month to month with any provider and pay full price for your next phone.
Instant rebates are easier to deal with than mail-in rebates. You don't have to wait for months for a check or jump through hoops applying for a rebate. Instead, you present your credit card, it gets charged and then immediately rebated back to you. So why do the cell phone providers make you go through this? To perform an instant credit check. They want to see that you have enough money to cover the cost of the phone, which gives them an idea of whether you have the resources to pay for the service.
If you've chosen to accept a rebate offer, here is some advice on how to track your rebate:
* Read the fine print: Make sure you completely understand what's required to get the rebate before you buy your phone. You usually have to show proof of purchase, but some companies also set deadlines for rebate submissions.
* Try to find rebates that are automatic once the cashier rngs up the purchase, or rebates that require you fill out the form at the cashier to get the deal in your initial purchase.
* Make copies of everything, including your receipts and proof of purchase. Do not send the originals in with the rebate request.
* Get a receipt for mailing your request with the date on it. You can use certified mail, priority mail, return receipt requested mail, or a private delivery company (UPS, Fed Ex, etc.).
One of the best advances in cell phone rebates is the online rebate. Big companies with Web presences, like Amazon.com and Staples, allow providers to use online rebates to replace mail-in rebates. An online rebate allows the customer to apply for the rebate online through a point-and-click interface, removing obstacles like mailing, including box codes, etc.