credit cards

Watch rules on prepaid cards for rebates

Use the card immediately. When it comes to rebate cards, the faster you use them the better. Though some complain that many rebate cards expire too quickly, they actually expire no sooner and in many cases later than a rebate check would, says Wright. "The average expiration date for a rebate card is about six months whereas checks expire in 90 days," she says. No matter what the expiration date is, it's stated clearly on the card. Make a note of the date as soon as you receive the card.

Identify fees you can control. While fees vary on different rebate cards, some can be avoided. Sometimes fees are attached to rebate cards with lengthier expiration dates, says Wright. The money collected is used to pay for the technology that tracks and verifies the card's balance, she adds. However, in many cases, these fees are only applicable if a balance remains on the card after a set number of months. If you use the rebate card before the expiration date, you won't be hit with the extra charge.

Take advantage of technology. Like debit cards, rebate cards let you spend as you go, so you can make one purchase that uses the entire amount or multiple smaller purchases. However, Consumers Union points out that some cashiers may have a difficult time processing "split tender transactions," which are used to divide the bill if the funds on the rebate card don't cover the entire purchase. To avoid the possible frustration, monitor your card's balance (some cards let you do this via the Internet or the phone) so you always know what you have available to spend.

Act fast if a card is lost. The good thing about rebate cards is they can be tracked so merchants can cancel one if it's lost or stolen, Wright says. But if a stolen rebate card has already been used, you're not protected by the same rules that apply to debit and credit cards, limiting your liability or allowing you to recover your money. Again, the cash on a rebate card is not your money as with a debit card, nor is it money you're liable for as with a credit card. Think of rebate cards as cash. It's up to the merchant to issue another card or not. To improve your chances of getting a lost rebate card replaced, let the merchant know immediately if you've misplaced the card so the card can be deactivated and a new one issued, Wright suggests.

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