Are Postcard-Sized Rebate Checks A Conspiracy?

So you’ve fought the mighty rebaterus and won, prying your hard-won mail-in rebate money from its claws. If your rebate isn’t in the form of a prepaid debit card, it’s probably a postcard-sized check—cheap to mail, simple, easy. For the rebate fulfillment company. For the consumer depositing checks via ATM as banks cut back on their hours, it’s not so simple or easy.

Reader Chris writes:

I’ve noticed that several times, I’ve received checks from mail-in rebate offers that refuse to scan in the newer check-scanning ATMs that my bank (Bank of America) has deployed, replacing envelope-deposit ATMs, and that I’m sure other large banks have put into service as well.

These are the checks that are mailed outside of envelopes, like postcards – the check is printed along with your mailing address, postage info, etc. Apparently the thickness of the card stock causes the check to get rejected outright by every check-scanning ATM I’ve tried them on. And if it does make it to the “scan” stage, the ATM then rejects it as unreadable.

Obviously, this means that in order to deposit the rebate check, I now have to visit an actual bank branch – not a big deal for me, but I’m sure that this extra hurdle for enough people that it edges the “uncollected” percentage up a couple points, which is good news for everyone except the customer. While this appears completely coincidental – the postcard-style check is cheaper to mail than a traditional paper check – I can certainly see the rebate processors not rushing to fix this, um, “fringe benefit” of the format.

Probably not a consiracy, but definitely an inconvenience.

(Photo: Gamma-Ray Productions)


Edit Your Comment

  1. aishel says:

    I always thought that the conspiracy was in that when they mail it, they make it look like junk mail, so you’ll be inclined to toss it by mistake.

    • Taed says:

      @aishel: I’ll agree on that one. However, with about 75 rebates under my belt, I can say that I’ve received every one. The only exception was a company that went out of business, but then the original retail store made good on it, so I still got the $$$.

    • Ayumi~n says:

      @aishel: My thoughts exactly. Although the last check like that I received wasn’t a rebate check, but a survey check. It seemed like it was smaller than a regular postcard and it was pretty banged up. Didn’t notice it for a few days because I got more important mail on that day.

    • tsume says:

      @aishel: I got my local trash bill and that looks like a postcard size junk mail too. I think it’s just poor planning.

    • MikeM_inMD says:

      @aishel: I always open every piece of mail to verify its importance (Verizon come-ons look a lot like Verizon policy change mailings) and to see what needs to be shredded.

    • Charmander says:

      @aishel: I’ve almost tossed a couple by mistake.

      But, actually, I’ve never had any problems depositing them in my bank account.

  2. azntg says:

    If your bank accepts deposits by mail (and you trust your postal system enough), then one alternative for you is to mail in the check. Some banks even offer postage paid envelopes upon request.

    Bank of America does offer Bank by Mail service:
    Link: Bank of America – Bank by Mail mailing addresses

  3. DAK says:

    I have a BofA account, and the branches that I visit have check scanning ATM’s. As much as I hate BofA, I’ve never had an issue with the ATM rejecting a deposit, including deposits of postcard sized checks.

    This really does come across as a petty gripe. Even if an ATM rejects a particular deposit, forcing the customer to go to a teller, that’s better than accepting the deposit only to screw it up on the back end, causing checks to bounce, etc.

    Of all the things to hate BofA for, this is minor at best.

    • coren says:

      @DAK: This isn’t a hate BoA post though, it’s a hate the rebate company post. It forces nine to fivers to make a trip to the bank on their lunch, day off, etc. to get their ten or five bucks or what have you. If this is an on purpose thing, it’s kind of shady on their part

    • Coles_Law says:

      @DAK: Can you deposit cash at those ATM’s If yes, it seems even if the postcard-check gave you grief, the OP could toss it in an envelope and deposit it the “old” way.

      • ben says:

        @Coles_Law: Those ATMs have a separate cash deposit section that actually counts the bills without using envelopes. But like other people have mentioned, there are other options, like going up to the teller or mailing it in, etc.

  4. dasunst3r says:

    Insert obligatory “selection of alternatives should not be based on the presence of a rebate” here.

  5. Snarkysnake says:

    The only conspiracy here is among consumers that chase these things instead of rewarding honest pricing with their patronage. Actually , I kind of wish that rebate checks were carved in 100 lb. blocks of granite so that they would never be a factor in decison making. Part of the reason that retailers and manufacturers play these bullshit pricing games is that gullible buyers fall for them.

    No sympathy for the OP from me. Just say no.

    • jaket says:

      @Snarkysnake: Amen!

      Rebates are designed so that consumers, for one reason or another, will not complete all the steps required to get their money. That’s why it’s a “mail-in rebate” rather than just an honest discount at the register.

      The more steps, and the more difficult/tricky/tedious each step is, the more likely it is that the company gets to keep your money. So yeah, making the check inconvenient to cash is probably good for a single-digit percentage increase in uncashed checks. Which could mean millions of extra dollars in profit.

      If someone’s offering you a mail-in rebate, they’re basically making you think you’re getting a discount, secure in the knowledge that there’s a good chance that their rebate process will psychologically defeat you. Don’t reward those slimy businesses with your patronage.

      • chadraytay says:

        @jaket: Um, the last 3 rebates i’ve done print out ready to mail. You literally have to just put the form in an envelope after adding your address. No additional steps.

        When was the last time you used a mail in rebate?

        And as far as “honest discount” goes. When was the last time you 1000 sheets of brand name printer paper (24lb 98white) for 1$ at a normal sale.

        The rebate sales are usually massively better than a normal sale.

        • Snarkysnake says:


          “And as far as “honest discount” goes. When was the last time you 1000 sheets of brand name printer paper (24lb 98white) for 1$ at a normal sale.”

          Why then ,can’t they just sell you 1000 sheets of brand name paper (24 lb 98 white) for a dollar ? Why get the postal service involved ? You seem immune to logic.

          • NeverLetMeDown says:


            Chadraytay bought it for a dollar because he bothered to file the rebate. Since I do file rebates, I’m happy to use them.

            Rebate pricing allows those of us who actually keep out stuff organized to get a better price, at the expense of the lazy and/or sloppy. I have no problem with that.

            • HogwartsAlum says:

              @NeverLetMeDown: I’ll do them, but not on small things. I just look for a better price. As far as the checks go, I don’t use the ATM because it takes longer for the deposit to post.

          • K-Bo says:

            @Snarkysnake: because the company can’t afford to offer it to everyone. I have never had a rebate denied, and I enjoy them, because they let me decide that I’m willing to do the work to get the cheaper price. I will admit though, as my salary goes up, I see more and more that I don’t feel like are worth my time. But when I was working minimum wage, if there was a rebate of $10 on something I needed, it was totally worth the 10-20 mins it took to submit the rebate to get over an hours worth of pay back.

    • StanTheManDean says:


      Damn, you are absolutely correct.

  6. JohnAllison says:

    USAA, click, sent, done.

  7. oldgraygeek says:

    Citizens Bank uses deposit envelopes at its ATMs. I have, in the past, printed my own envelopes to save time (business account, frequent deposits)… they worked fine.

  8. Crovie says:

    Cheque scanners? Huh? We still have the wonderful stone-age technology of putting your cheque in the dumb machine, telling it how much money the cheque is for, and getting charged with fraud a day later if you lie. I thought that was working pretty well.

    • reishka says:

      @Crovie: Oh, don’t worry. The scanners don’t always scan correctly and then they ask you how much the check is for anyway. I make the same deposit every week of $336.00, and every week it scans it, reads it, shows me the scan, and then asks me how much the check is for. I enter in ‘336.00’ and then it asks ‘Are you sure?”, showing a larger scan of the check. Then after ALL that, it accepts it, credits my account and I’m free to go.

      And it’s not like this is a handwritten check. For handwritten checks, I could understand. Maybe it can’t decipher the handwriting. But for a printed check? Please.

  9. madanthony says:

    rebate companies have been doing postcard checks for long before there were ATM’s that did check scanning.

    The only conspiracy is to save the cost of mailing a normal check – both in terms of paper envelope and additional postage.

  10. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    I haven’t run into this problem yet. I have recieved rebates like that though. I use check scanning ATMs at Chase all the time so I wonder if this would be an issue for their ATMs as well.

    I just wish they would work more consistantly. I have a few along our various routes that we normally travel. Sometimes the ATM is just down in general, but more oftin the ATM rejects a normal check saying that it can’t be read. Sometimes it will let you put in the amount, other times it’s just flat out rejection. A little more consistancy would be nice!

  11. kjm0606 says:

    Just because the scanner can’t read the check doesn’t mean you have to go into the branch and see a teller. You just tell the ATM how much the check is for, old-school style. Problem solved.

    • Woodside Park Bob says:

      The scanners really are progress. They prevent problems such as the horrible time I had trying to get my former bank, Wachovia, to give me my money when I put three checks in the envelope but they credited me for only one of them. With an ATM scanner you know the transaction is being handled properly.

  12. Colonel Jack O'Neill says:

    Ppl r tht fckng lzy t wlk nt bnk t dpst t. ‘d rthr dpst chck nsd bnk thn t d t t th TM.

    nd hw scr s tht fr th rbt cmpny, mn y hv thr chckng ccnt nd rtng nmbr n pln sght fr nyn t rd, nd smn cn frg yr sgntr syng tht y sgnd t vr t thm, thn thy g nd pt t n thr ccnt, r g t chck cshng plc nd csh t.

    • Rachacha says:

      @Colonel Jack O’Neill: At the banks near me, the inline counters and drive-up tellers always tend to have long lines, and most of the transactions I need to do can be done at one of 5 ATMs that my branch has (and they rarely have a line).

      If the rebate check is rejected by the ATM, I can either write the check off and forget about it, or I need to go to a window with a real person, after waiting in line. If the rebate is worth less than $5 I need to determine how much money my time is worth. Is it worth waiting in line for 5 minutes and the gas to get to/from the gas to deposit a $5 rebate? For many people, the answer is no.

  13. ctnchrisw says:

    I’ve never had a problem depositing them in ATMs, but one company kept sending me checks where the routing number was torn. My other rebate checks came fine, it seemed like they were ruining it so I’d have to keep requesting a new one and give up, but the last one was torn in a way that the routing number was guessable so I was able to cash it.

  14. jbl-az says:

    If you can only get to the branch after hours, put the check in an envelope with a deposit slip and drop it in the night deposit box (most branches not part of a supermarket or other store have these). It works just like mailing the check, only it’s quicker and completely dependable as far as getting it delivered is concerned.

  15. acknight says:

    No problems with them in the Diebold ATMs that my credit union uses here (AmeriCU). Did have trouble with them back when I used to be a BoA customer.

  16. Dont lump me into your 99%! says:

    I loved that cash counting / check scanning ATM when I was with BofA. I never used the check part, but the cash part came in mighty handy.

  17. outlulz says:

    Every bank has slot where you can drop your checks with a deposit slip inside an envelope. It’s not a big deal.

    • azntg says:

      @treimel: Same story with megabank (e.g.: Chase, Bank of America) branches in the New York Metro Area.

      Chase recently finished replacing or converting the last of the holdouts (mostly former Washington Mutual branches and the one-off branches opened shortly after the JPMorgan merger) to deposit scanning ATMs.

  18. lmarconi says:

    Am I the only one who feels sort of uncomfortable using those new fancy ATMs for anything above a $25 deposit?
    Maybe it’s the former teller in me, but I feel more comfortable handing my checks to a teller than a machine…

    Then again, last time I was at BoA and the manager asked everyone in line for the tellers, for the eighth time! to use the ATMs instead and I politely told him that I prefer to go to the teller, even if there’s a wait, he looked at me like I had four heads. So maybe it is a little off-base…would be interested to hear others opinions…

    • madanthony says:


      I never use ATM’s for depositing, only for withdrawing. My paychecks are direct deposit, so the only time I deposit is rebate checks and the like – it’s worth it to me to go to the credit union once a month or so and deposit in person.

    • ctnchrisw says:

      @lmarconi: The check scanning ATMs scan, show a picture and ask to verify the amount. Then, it prints a copy of the check on your receipt. This receipt is your proof that you deposited said check.

      • lmarconi says:

        So ironic story…I had a five dollar reimbursement check, so I tried the fancy ATM today. I asked for a receipt…and it was malfunctioning – it attempted to print but spit out nothing.
        And that is why I use the teller line.

    • shepd says:


      Unless you need the money in the account immediately, the teller in you should remind you there’s enough checks and balances in the chequing system that if you don’t get the money, you can prove you didn’t, and get another cheque cut. :^)

      Of course, if it’s a cheque from an untrustworthy source, I’ll cash it at the teller. Best that way, anyways, so they can make a quick decision if it’s rubber or not.

  19. misti713 says:

    My local National City (now PNG) branch told me that Rite Aid’s rebate checks could only be redeemed at Rite Aid stores. I argued with the teller to no avail. I contacted Rite Aid and received written confirmation that they are indeed real checks that can be deposited into your bank account.

  20. PLATTWORX says:

    OK, there is a story here. I personally hate postcard checks since they reveal my business to anyone who reads the postcard.

    However, there are TWO models of BofA scanning ATM machines. Those made by NCR and those made by Diebold.

    When first installed the NCR machines were VERY tricky and would not scan most “smaller” checks and postal money orders. The Diebold ones would take almost anything and be able to read them.

    I had two nearby branches, one had a NCR one had a Diebold and when the NCR refused a check, the Diebold machine always scanned it fine.

    I mentioned this inside a branch to a branch manager and got a blank stare. She didn’t even seen to know who “NCR” and “Diebold” were. I was amazed she had not been trained on this stuff.

    ANYWAY, there seems to have been an upgrade to the NCR software and now the BofA scanning ATMs seem to accept postcard checks too.

    The OP has a good point. These ATMs makes ALOT more work for the customer if the check or cash is not accepted by the ATM for some reason and there is no option for “this ATM is wrong, please insert a deposit in an envelope”

    That said, things are improving.

  21. Cervantes3773 says:

    Those check scanners can’t read USPS Postal money orders either. I’d say it’s just as important that the banks program the ATMs to read all varieties of checks as it is for the companies to write a more standard check.

  22. Snockered says:

    @Stephmo: anger =! critical thinking

  23. dognose says:

    I use a bank that has not cut back on it’s hours. I don’t use their or anyone’s ATM. If you like personal service, stop using the machines w/ the fees and the errors.

    • morlo says:

      @dognose: Processing a check does not require “personal service.” Banks waste money building new branches for lonely people, rather than paying interest and offering better features. Of course paper checks themselves are kept around for insecure people, so maybe the banks are being consistent.

  24. Stephmo says:

    @Snockered: Yes, because when I approach a problem, find a roadblock and go, “I wonder what other tools have been provided that might allow me to solve this already?” that’s anger?

    I assume you’re not in charge of reading people or interpreting things for anything important.

  25. PhilFR says:

    So which is causing the inconvenience: the check, or the bank that has taken away the equipment that would allow you to deposit it (envelope based machines)?

  26. Nytmare says:

    @Colonel Jack O’Neill: You’re absolutely right, Uncle Jack. Everyone should do things the way you do, and anyone who does different than what suits your personal lifestyle is a lazy fucking jerk.

  27. ElPresidente408 says:

    Most, if not all, states have enacted escheatment laws such that any unclaimed rebate checks go to the state after about 5 years. Thus it’s not in the best interest of the company nor the fulfillment house to make the check uncashable. The company has permanently paid out that money to someone as soon as your claim is processed.

    You can then claim your money from the state after that point. But what they do with your money until you claim it is another story.

    • ElPresidente408 says:

      I’ve worked on a mail-in rebate program. Yes the checks usually carry a 3 or 6 month expiration date, but expired checks are escheated. Now it depends who handles escheatment, the fulfillment house or the company. Some fulfillment houses will take care of the escheatment issue and pay the state when appropriate. This is a HUGE headache for companies as you have to track each and every claim and submit the details to each state. And every state has slightly different rules. Otherwise the company may take the money back, but come 5 years the state asks for all escheatable money.

  28. Starfury says:

    I’d rather get a rebate in check form instead of a gift card. The check I can either cash or put into my saving account where the gift card gets spent.

    • melmoitzen says:

      @Starfury: What’s nice about the VISA/MC branded rebate gift card is that you don’t have to bank it like you do a check. When I get one of those things, I immediately use the full amount to make an online payment to my wireless or cable account, then I can toss it. Beats losing it or keeping track of the declining balance.

      Still, the tightwad in me realizes that if I have a $100 consumer rebate debit card vs. check, that’s $100 I can’t charge on my own credit card–and I miss out on a $2 cash-back rebate.

  29. s73v3r says:

    Wow, that was a lot of disemvoweling.