THE HELP DESK The Help Desk: Top Tips

On Santa's list: Your gift rebate

Don't forget: The deadlines to send in paperwork to get a rebate for a holiday purchase come quickly.

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Many holiday special offers come with some extra work for you. We're talking about mail-in rebates. The Better Business Bureau says about 70% of consumers take advantage of these offers, but some 21% are left with nothing to show for their efforts.

1. Be a smart consumer

You've seen the ads -- a company offers a deep discount on a big ticket item like a computer or a television in the form of a big mail-in rebate. The only catch - you have to do the legwork if you want the money. Most of the time, rebates work, and customers take advantage of the offer. But more than 20% of the time, customers either don't get their rebates or are turned down on a technicality. Don't be one of those customers.

The first thing to do is to read the instructions. Some of these rebates require a number of extensive steps. Don't get tripped up. Missing steps could delay the process or result in you losing your rebate altogether.

Pay particular attention to the amount of time you have to act on the rebate offer - and don't delay. Also - keep all the packaging from the product until after you get your rebate. Rebates often require you to cut out the UPC symbols or other parts of the product packaging to be included with the paperwork. Speaking of paperwork and the rebate doesn't come.

2. File a complaint

Call the company offering the rebate. Sometimes retailers and manufacturers use a third party company to process all that paperwork. So you may need to track down a different company altogether to get your check. If that doesn't work, there is other help available. You can file a complaint with your local better business bureau, your state attorney general, or the federal trade commission helpline at 877-ftc help or

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: : Have you ever had trouble getting your rebate check? To top of page

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