Companies try to woo customers to spend rebate checks

Thursday, May 1, 2008 | 7:48 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The IRS began depositing tax rebate checks in thousands of bank accounts on Monday, beginning the national economy stimulus program a few days ahead of plan. Friday, the IRS will administer 5 million rebate checks, the largest batch yet, and national corporations such as Sears, Kroger and Home Depot want a piece of them.

These and other chains are offering discounts or gift cards with bonus money if consumers cash their rebate checks at the stores.

Other companies such as Staples and Expedia have special Web sites dedicated to rebate deals for office equipment, hotels, flights and other perks.

The rebate, a minimum of $300, is part of a federal economic stimulus package, which the government hopes will prompt consumers to spend money.

In light of reports of a slowing economy and rising gas prices, business research firm The Confidence Board reported that a survey of consumer confidence taken April 29 indicated it is the lowest in five years.

This means companies will have a harder time persuading people to buy non-necessities.

CCH CompleteTax, a company that researches and analyzes tax information, surveyed 2,020 U.S. adults about their spending plans with these findings: 47 percent said they planned to use the rebate to pay off debt; 32 percent would put the money into savings; 21 percent would spend it.

Companies trying to woo rebate-rich customers are taking different approaches.

Sears and Kroger (Gerbes is a Kroger outlet) want to encourage customers to spend the entire rebate at their stores. Both are adding 10 percent to a store gift card purchased with the rebate check.

At Kroger, customers can purchase cards in only $300, $600 or $1,200 denominations with the additional amount refunded.

The tax rebates range from $300 to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples who file jointly. Parents can also receive $300 for each dependent child.

The gift cards from Sears will be processed for the full amount of the rebate and can also be used at Kmart and Land’s End stores.

Other stores have these plans:

  • Staples has launched an economic stimulus center on its Web site with daily deals and coupons as well as information on the federal package.
  • Expedia is encouraging people to use their rebates on a domestic getaway and keep the money in the country. The site is offering deals with rebate-specific prices of less than $399 and $599 on three- and five-day hotel and flight packages.
  • Home Depot is using a go-green promotion strategy to urge consumers to spend and save at the same time. It is offering discounts through July on compact fluorescent light bulbs and Energy Star appliances.
  • RadioShack is offering a 10 percent discount on purchases more than $50 when a rebate check is used for payment.

Tax rebates will be sent out as late as July 11, so it will be a while before the impact of these programs, if any, can be seen. All directly deposited rebate checks are scheduled to arrive by May 16. All other checks will be mailed by mid-July. Mailing dates are based on the last two digits of tax payers’ social security numbers, starting with 00 through 09 and ending with 88 through 99.

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