Forget about extreme couponing—extreme rebating could be the next big thing. With any luck, there’ll be a TLC show soon, perhaps starring Auburn University’s Jonathan Hood: He paid a little more than 75 percent of this semester’s tuition bill with rebate money courtesy of his huge pile of prepaid debit cards and rebate checks.
It’s not quite free money, but it’s close.
Business Insider reports that Mr. Hood, a Ph.D. student in computer science, buys merchandise purely to redeem the rebate and then sells or donates the items, many of which are electronics. For purchases with a rebate that’s equal to the total cost, he gets back the purchase cost as well as whatever he can get by selling the object secondhand. He tells BI, “On a weekday, I usually have about two or three debit cards or rebate checks coming in.”
If that sounds like a sweet deal, don’t go rushing off to try it for yourself. It’s a time-consuming pursuit, and some companies take months to return the money. To keep up with it all, Mr. Hood has created an elaborate system that involves relentless scouring of discount and coupon sites, a process for filling out the paperwork and mailing and tracking each rebate, a computer script that alerts him when companies are late refunding the money, and a cash-back credit card that returns 2 percent of the original purchase price.
While the amount anyone could possibly get back after putting in so much time and effort seems like it must be negligible, Mr. Hood says otherwise:
My average rebate takes 11 minutes to fill out and cash, and is for $40. My envelopes and pens were free after rebate, so their cost is negligible. For this $40 rebate, I use a 2% cash-back credit card to purchase the item ($0.80 profit) and receive anywhere from 0-5% using FatCash from Fatwallet or a similar service. Stamp price is $0.45. Then, I turn around and sell the item on eBay for an average profit of $11.91 after shipping and taxes per item.
If we followed that correctly, it sounds as if he might be making a little more than a dollar a minute, which seems pretty efficient. Especially since he was able to funnel that money into another potentially lucrative venture: his education.
“Tuition for this semester was $4,500 … I paid over $2,500 of it with prepaid debit cards [from rebates] and a little over $1,000 of it with rebate checks,” he says.
His big discount wasn’t entirely free of downsides, though: He made no mention of how long it took him to plug in the numbers of more than 200 separate debit cards into Auburn’s tuition-payment Web site.
It must not have been too terrible. Mr. Hood is already saving up for next semester, and claims to have $600 more in rebates due in the next few days.
Image from Flickr user kalleboo.