Is Buying Coupons Legal?

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So, this question has been posed to me many times before “Is Buying Coupons Legal?”  The wording on the coupon states that you can’t sell them, but you see them for sale on specialty sites and even larger ones such as Ebay.  Since it is confusing, I wanted to know for sure, so today I emailed the CIC (Coupon Information Center) and asked them for clarification.  I received the following response and was told that I could share this text on my site with all of you.

At a minimum, individuals engaged in the unauthorized sale of coupons open the door to potential civil litigation (i.e., a lawsuit) from the manufacturers whose coupons they are selling. At the worst, criminal charges may be involved in the event stolen coupons, counterfeits or an organized fraud ring is involved.

Virtually every coupon issued in the United States features a “nontransferability” clause. This clause limits the validity of the coupon to the original recipient by providing that the coupon is void if sold or otherwise transferred. The unauthorized sale of manufacturers’ coupons violates this clause. (By the way, manufacturers are free to target their discount offers in this way and the First Sale Doctrine, which is a copyright concept, has no bearing on this.)

Some coupon sellers have attempted to claim that the use of so called “legal disclaimers,” such as, “I’m selling an envelope, not the coupons themselves” provide them with legal protection as a sort of “Loophole” to allow such coupon sales. This is not the case; such disclaimers do not protect coupon sellers from potential civil liability. In fact, resorting to such an obvious ploy tends to highlight the fact that the seller realizes that the sale of the coupons themselves, which is clearly what is really going on, is improper and impermissible.

Coupon buyers should also note that retailers might refuse to accept coupons that have been obtained in a way that violates the terms on the coupon.

As previously indicated, virtually all coupons clearly state that they are void if sold, auctioned or transferred. Please take a few minutes to examine your coupons for this nontransferability clause. We believe you will see that our comments are supported by your observations.

So, what does this mean?  In short, it means they state you should not purchase coupons — according to the CIC.  Are you going to be arrested if you buy them – no.  But you should be cautious and excerise your own judgement as to whether you should or shouldn’t do so.


  1. Nicole says

    So then when toys r us, Gerber, pampers and huggies or other companies sends me coupons it is actually illegal to give them to friends to use them also from what i’m getting from this.

  2. Sarah says

    does that make it wrong to give away coupons? i hand them out all the time to friends, strangers, expired to the military.

  3. kelly says

    Oh – Sarah that was my exact same question! The way I read this, it’s a problem when I leave coupons on the shelf at the store, or give them to my mother…… Interesting!!

  4. Heather H says

    I always leave coupons on the shelf if I am not going to use it. That dosen’t seem wrong to me.

  5. Betty says

    I know this is not exactly what what stated, and of course I could be wrong, but I think the manufacturer doesn’t care if we give them to someone else. I think the problem comes in when a person benefits financially when they aren’t even purchasing the product with the said coupons.

    • Tracie says

      I believe so too Betty. I actually emailed them back for written confirmation.

  6. Kelly says

    What about trading coupons? For example, I have a dog and my friend has a cat. What if we trade cat and dog stuff coupons? What about dumpster diving for coupons, or the people that get coupons from the newspaper office when they are going to throw them out? There’s so many crazy things with coupons that I’m afraid to even talk about my coupon trading circle. (Three people/four newspapers, really minor compared to TLC standards!) I’m afraid we’ll all get arrested for our trading coupons nowadays even though we’ve been doing this for YEARS!

  7. Shannon W. says

    Yes, giving coupons to your family or leaving them on the shelf is technically “transferring”, but you aren’t going to be sued for it. Mass selling them is a different story. Once upon a time no one thought they would be sued for “loaning out” music online and we see where that went. It can happen and if it gets bad enough I’m sure it will start to happen one day.

  8. kelly says

    I ‘sell my time to organize coupons and the coupons are free’ on ebay – I barely profit- if I do at all. I can’t and won’t use all the coupons…. I would rather someone use them, then hit the trash can.

  9. Tracie says

    It is already happening a lot of places. I am fine with it because I only ever get one or two of something so it will be nice if others are limited so that shelves are not wiped clean all of the time.

  10. JENNIFER says

    That is why coupon services are called CLIPPING services…you pay for the service of clipping…not the coupon!

  11. Lori says

    Very interesting … maybe I’m a little too easy-going but it seems very reasonable to me someone be reimbursed for their time to cut and mail coupons to me. However, it seems to go against their own philosophy when a clipping service charge a different amount, based on the value of the coupon … it doesn’t take them any more time to clip a $.50 coupon vs. a $3.00 coupon. Clipping services are a huge help to me … I hope a bunch of questions being raised about it and that darn TV show don’t ruin it for everyone.

  12. Amber says

    They say stores don’t have to accept them if they have been bought or transferred.
    How in the world would they know. Just because someone has 50 Q’s doesn’t meant they bought or transferred them. They could have bought that amount of sunday papers or found that many in the recycling center. I think this is so stupid.

  13. Laura says

    I agree. This is the dumbest thing ever. This is America and I can clip coupons and give them to every single person I see in the store if I want. I can trade coupons all day and I can leave as many on the shelf as I want. This is not criminal!!!

    • Tracie says

      This doesn’t really mean to hand coupons to a friend – there is not any way to track that.

  14. Carol says

    Does this mean then that it is illegal to give coupons to friends and family members? And does it also mean then that it is illegal to send coupons, expired or otherwise to someone in the military overseas? How would they get coupons to use at the commissary otherwise? Try to do something to help another and I see no way that it is harming anyone. What is actually meant by transfer? And if this is truly illegal, Why? Please give me a straight answer! Spell it out! Don’t hide regulations within the generalized paragraphs of corporate jargon. What is legally permissable and what is not? I can understand prohibiting profit from selling them but we were taught in Kindergarten that it is a good thing to “share” and be kind.

    • Tracie says

      Oh no – not at all. That isn’t what transferring coupons means. Sharing coupons is one thing, it is buying them that is more of the issue.

  15. David says

    If I buy a newspaper with coupons in it, didn’t the newspaper company transfer the coupon to me?

    • Tracie says

      No, they did not. It was the offer provided with the purchase of your newspaper….so it was not sold nor transferred.

  16. says

    My sister gives me the coupons she isn’t going to use. My friend sends me via mail the extra coupons she gets from her friend who does demos at Walmart and Winn Dixie. I see nothing wrong with this at all!

    A few questions on this:
    How on earth does a retailer or manufacturer know if you traded coupons or gave them to someone who would use them if you weren’t? If you purchase a coupon from a clipping service (I do every now and again) how does anyone know you paid for them except for the clipping service and you?

    I personally don’t see anything wrong with the clipping service or purchasing them on ebay! I would rather purchase the coupons I want and will use, instead of several newspapers that I won’t read with coupons I won’t use! I dislike that stupid show! Before that show, you really didn’t hear about all this stuff! Now there are people that don’t want to use coupons because they don’t want to be scrutinized for using them and that is totally WRONG!

    • Tracie says

      There isn’t any way that they will know….it is a grey area and a question I’ve had asked many times. That is why I went directly to the CIC to get an answer. It is up to each person to decide what works for them and if they want to purchase them or not.