Are Coupon Clipping Services ethical or even legal?

Pictured: The lastest TFF Coupon Swap!

The topic of Coupon Clipping Services has come up recently and I’m curious what the general consensus is.  There are coupon clipping services all over the internet some hosting their own website others selling via Ebay.  A quick google search will be up many sites.  If we take a look at the fine print on most, if not all coupons it reads something like the following:

Coupon void if altered, copied, sold, purchased, transfered, or exchanged.

Exchanged?!  Does that mean Coupon Swaps technically void the coupon?  Most clipping services say they’re not selling the coupons, instead they are charging you for the service and their time to it took to clip the coupons.  I’ve purchase coupons from Ebay in the past, it’s been quite some time and now this really has me wondering if it’s ethical or even legal.  We’ve discussed Coupon Fraud here in the past and that topic is pretty cut and dry, and it appears that according to the Coupon Information Corporation this topic is black and white as well.  Here is what they have to say…

Never paying money for coupons. This includes buying coupons from companies/individual who “sell the service of clipping coupons” instead of the coupons themselves. (Think about it, you really ARE BUYING the coupons, yet the business will insist you’re not. Does that make any sense? Does it inspire your trust? Do you really want to provide them with your financial information?)

So with that information, what do you think?  This is a tough one I tell you!


  1. Kristine Bunting says

    That is a very interesting topic. I can’t imagine that coupon swapping is illegal though because my local Walmart has a basket labeled “Coupon Swap, leave the ones you don’t use and take ones that you will” so if it were illegal I would assume that Walmart wouldn’t being doing that. the selling coupons though? that is something different I think…

  2. Sarah Williams via Facebook says

    clipping coupons is enough work for me. going to sites and ordering stuff is just too much work. i exchange some with a group of friends, so we all get what we need.

  3. Joe Meany via Facebook says

    My local library has a give and take basket of coupons. The library buy the Sunday paper and has need for coupons, so that is base set of coupons that start each week. Not many people take advantage of the basket but it is fair. It is not like a fee service and there are not usually multiples of coupons.

  4. Katy McClellan via Facebook says

    I see no problem with paying someone for a service. I am not able to afford buying 20-30 papers a week but some items, such as the kitty litter in last weeks paper, I know I will be able to use 30 of those coupons. I simply see it as people giving me the coupons they arent going to use

  5. Dot Quaid via Facebook says

    it depends on your needs…I have amassed enough toothpaste, aspirin, mouthwash/rinse, BBQ sauce, chips, to last us for ages, so I don’t even buy that stuff anymore, unless it’s free or practically free. I then give the extra to family/friends, I even take bags of goodies to the food bank…for me, the 5 Sunday papers I get are enough, although I have access to more, if I want. I see no problem with someone else doing all the work for me, so I can get the coupons I want for the items I use. I have purchased coupons before in order to grab a sale item at a rock-bottom price – works for me!

  6. tammy says

    It really does take a lot of time to clip all of those coupons. They make about a $1.50 profit or less to cut 20 coupons, put them in an envelope, address the envelope and take it to the mail box. That to me is a service.

  7. Sf clippers says

    Well I think I have unique insight into this topic. Shortly after my giveaway here on TFF I was shut down by the chronicle legal department. All inserts are printed at a printhouse for each paper, given to the distribution houses and stuffed into the papers. There are extra inserts created all along this process as well as extras returned to the house for disposal if not sold. The chronicle has sole distribution rights to the paper and all material printed for the sole use in that paper. By taking discarded inserts and redistributing them in any form is illegal.

    I don’t know how or where other services get their inserts, but they are supposed to be destroyed. The papers make money on insert use and they would rather burn the unused inserts then give th away. I think that’s why big websites like dede do not sell whole inserts anymore. Although cutting them up so there is no binding with a paper name on it seems like a loophole, they are still in violation in any way they got the inserts.

    None of this info deals with the coupon laws, but even before that the services are violating distribution rights, kinda like napster a few years back.

    I personally don’t agree with it, I don’t agree with stores destroying goods and food rather than donating them either, but legally that’s what’s done. Im not telling people to quit using the services, I’m just sharing what I have learned in the past few weeks. And to play devils advocate, by purchasing coupons or inserts that have been stolen without the newspapers consent, you are preventing them from making profit, which effects the workers that work for the company. Also if the papers finds a “leak” where along the chain inserts, or papers, are being reused rather than destroyed the distribution house can loose it’s contract with the paper. The rules are so strict some papers have revoked the ability of the house to donate unused papers to animal shelters because they were afraid the workers could resell them at a discount.

    • says

      SF Clippers – thank you so much for sharing your insight. I had no idea this happened until just a couple of days ago when a reader who won emailed me. Crazy!

  8. April Eubanks via Facebook says

    While I rarely use them, I see no problem with them. They are technically charging for the clipping service and postage, so I see no legal issue. Although, some could argue that if they are charging strictly for clipping, the cost per coupon should be the same regardless of coupon value.

  9. Sf clippers says

    Thanks Julia, I figured you were busy with the move… I had responded to your email, and then again when I got the auto response. I thought it was wierd I never got a response, but I didn’t want to bug you

  10. Sf clippers says

    To April, the legal issue is where the service got the coupons and if the print house is allowing it. I see nothing wrong with buying trinkets on the street, but if the trinkets are stolen goods it’s illegal.

  11. Jennifer says

    I don’t use them very often but I personally feel like they are charging for their service, not the coupons. Every few months there are high value coupons that are for products I use. I would rather spend a couple dollars to get just that coupon than paying a lot for extra papers.

  12. samantha says

    I don’t know how newspapers are in your town however here in PHX if newspapers are not sold on Sunday they are collected that night to go back to the newspaper company. I’m not sure what they do with them but in my old hometown it was different. If say a gas station didn’t sell all the papers by the next Sunday they would give them to whoever wanted them for free or recycle them. Sometimes I have family that will go and gather the unsold newspapers take the coupons out to mail to me. Is that somehow breaking the law?

  13. Sf clippers says

    It all depend on how you look at it. Most places hold newspaers for sale not buy them so they have to return he unsold papers so they don’t get charged for them. There are some big companies that just buy the papers and if they don’t get sold they loose money, but at least they don’t have to keep paperwork on how many sold, ect those stores throw away the papers so gathering those that have been paid for I don’t think violates the newspapers rights… But then there’s the vague coupon rules I think personally I don’t take those seriously there is so much grey area with “transfer” it’s hard to say like if we traded baby q’s for pet q’s I don’t see the problem, but I think that is a moral call

  14. Holly says

    I have had alot of problems locally getting my coupon inserts in the papers (they are obviously not stolen out of the papers, they were never put in)! I have complained a few times (Sac Bee, but I live in an outside area), but not had any response. After reading this I cant help but wonder if the distributer for my area is doing something fishy with the inserts that are supposed to be in the paper?! I have never used a clipping service, but I think it totally depends on where/how they are getting the inserts! If they are legit, I see nothing wrong with providing a service to who ever wants to pay for it!

    • samantha says

      i live in that area too holly i know for a fact the delivery guy has to stuff the papers, if you want you can locate the distribution center and return the paper and ask for one with inserts, also i would complain to the sac bee directly, they contract with the company that delivers them. If you need help locating the distribution center check the local newspaper boxes and see if there is an advertisment on them or ask one of the stores in your area the name of the company that drops off the bee

  15. says

    I think this follows a rule. If I bought it, it is my property and can do with it as I please. Once they put the ads/flyers in the paper I don’t think they have a right to tell the buyer they can use it as they wish. Basically if they do purchase the paper (not dumpster dive or newspaper steal) the product is theirs.

    I see it as if you buy movie posters or books. You have the right to trade those products or sell them as you wish.

  16. Steph says

    I have purchased pediasure coupons in the past, just because it is so darn expensive and the small amount I paid for the coupons was totally worth it. If I could find people who didn’t use them and would give me the coupons, that would rock! But until that happens, I’ll be looking for them on the clipping sites.

  17. Karen says

    I agree that any theft of papers or inserts is wrong and anyone selling their service to get them is wrong. I agree if they bought the paper it’s theirs to do with as they see fit. Unfortunately, we don’t know which is which.

    The word exchanged implies there is some sort of compensation, be that money, time, another coupon or a piece of purple plastic. Transfered implies giving it away with no compensation, therefore any transaction would be included. Seems to cover anything I can think of.

    With that said, I do understand why the companies put the disclaimers about the coupon being void if transfered. It seems to come down to the demographics again. If a company is trying to market a product to get more customers or sell more product in the Northeast, they may put out a $2 coupon as opposed to nothing or a $.50 coupon in California. Do I think that’s fair? No. I may need that product or discount more than someone in the Northeast and may buy more than 5 individuals in that area. If I could buy papers from other areas I would, but I can’t, so sometimes I’m left to find specific coupons with other means. The company is still making sales, is still getting a customer, just not the way they wanted. I get it that that can screw with their paper work.

    As to the “selling my service” disclaimers, I’ve always looked at it as the difference between buying a human being as a slave to take care of my house or family and buying or paying for their service for a specific time as a housekeeper. One is illegal, the other is not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *