for Next to Nothing: What's the Deal?
No doubt you've seen the
ads for computers for "free" or
next to nothing in the Sunday papers. The
offers look mighty tempting. But how do
you know if the deal is a good one? The
Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer
protection champion, says there are some
important facts to keep in mind.
First, find out the total,
up-front cost of the computer. Then determine
the rebate situation. If rebates are involved,
find out how you get them. In most cases,
you are required to sign a contract for
three years of Internet service. Before
you do the rebate deal, do the math: three
years of Internet service can cost you more
than you'll get back in rebates.
Second, you have to apply
for the rebates that make the deal seem
like a deal. Some rebates can be redeemed
immediately at the checkout counter. But
most are the mail-in variety. You pay the
full cost of the computer at the time of
purchase, then send documentation to the
manufacturer or retailer to receive your
rebate by mail. In most cases, you must
send the paperwork to the manufacturer or
retailer within 30 days of the purchase.
You generally will receive the rebates up
to 12 weeks later.
Before you commit to an
offer that depends on your signing up for
Internet service or one that promises big
rebates, ask your retailer:
- Do you have to sign up for Internet
service and for how long? Is there a penalty
for early cancellation?
- What's the total cost of the Internet
- Will you have to pay long distance charges
to access the Internet? Will you have
to pay an "hourly" fee to use
a "toll-free" phone number?
- Is the monitor sold separately? What
does it cost?
- How long will it be before you receive
your rebate checks?
Once you've got the answers
to all your questions, FTC officials say,
you'll know whether the conditions of the
offer suit your needs and your wallet.