The reality of rebate cards

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - We've all grown very used to using gift cards, so a rebate card doesn't seem so different.

That's what interior designer Mark McKnight thought.  He got a rebate card for buying a new cell phone and spent some of it right away.

"I went to a local grocery store and used about $42 of a 50 rebate card," McKnight said.

A few days later he tried to use the balance toward another purchase and learned he could only use the exact amount on the card.  Unfortunately, he didn't remember exactly how much that was.

That's the one big consumer complaint about the cards which are issued by some of the big credit companies.  The cardholder must know the exact amount on the card, or it may be declined.

The retailer can't read the balance in their computer system.

The very same thing happened to Better Business Bureau president Tom Bartholomy.

However, he's figured out how to make the most of rebate cards and we asked him to share his advice with us.

He says it's simple. To get the most from your card it's best to use it quickly and use the entire balance all at once.

"The retailer is not going to be able to tell you what your balance is but if you know and can tell them, they can run it through at that specific amount and you can use it all at once," Bartholomy said.

A Verizon spokesperson tells WBTV that before one of their rebate cards expires you can apply the balance to your phone bill  or you can put it toward a purchase made in the store.

You should also check the fine print of many of these cards because some will allow you to turn them in for cash.

We talked to the organization which represents the major network branded cards such as Visa and Mastercard.

They claim any balance left on a rebate card after expiration, it will likely become unclaimed property to the state.

They recommend you to think of these cards like your debit card.  Just as you'd always know how much money is in your account, they say it's the consumer's responsibility to regularly check the rebate card balance over the phone or online.

If you do that, they say, you'll always be able to get your money's worth.

Below you will find the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association's advice before you start using a rebate card:

Tips for consumers to know

Take a minute to read the card and its expiration and activate it

Rebate cards are replaceable if the card is lost or stolen

Funds are available immediately, no waiting or cost to cash a check.

Typically there is no fee to receive or use a rebate card

You can use a rebate card with a balance that is less than the purchase because most retailers can process split tender transactions or two forms of payment.

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