When I went to place my first bounty about a month ago, the question wasn't mine and I almost put up 500 rep to draw as much attention as possible figuring I'd only have to surrender said rep if someone actually came through with an answer.

Lucky for me I looked into it before finalizing and found that the bounty not only wouldn't be refunded, but wouldn't even be prioritized in the 'active bounties' list over 50 point bounties since they're chronologically ordered. I went with the minimum instead and still got more views and no answers, which seems like what would have happened with 500 points anyway.

Since then I've started paying attention to the active bounties tab on the home page, particularly the 500 pointers, wondering if a similar misunderstanding was taking place more broadly and leading people to lose rep they didn't expect to lose. Currently there is one bountied question that might fit the bill for what almost happened to me; the user are put up 500 bounty on a question that isn't theirs, with only 83 rep left after the bounty.

There are also six other questions where users have posted bounty amounts that are around 50% of their total rep, and I suspect that some of this has to do with an expectation that rep will be refunded if the question isn't answered. I understand the philosophy that we gain extra exposure by bountying a question and that an answer isn't what we 'buy' with the bounty necessarily, but I think this should be made more explicit in the blurb we see when offering a bounty.

I also think there might be some merit to (partially? 50%?) refunding bounties on questions posted by different users than the bounty placer, on the grounds that this still prevents endless promotion of ones own content while encouraging us to support one another (without punishment) in asking good questions.

To respond to Martin and Gerry's comments, I am primarily taking issue with the change of phrasing implemented back in 2013:

The way it is written reads to me as "this reputation is deducted immediately and cannot be refunded if you change your mind", or in other words you can't revoke it during the 7 day period for any reason. This might just be my denseness in reading, but I think less ambiguous language would be better. For example,

this reputation is deducted immediately and will not be returned to you for any reason

or even better

this reputation is deducted immediately and cannot be refunded, even if no answer is posted

I'm not trying to die on this hill or anything, it just seems like a case of ambiguous phrasing that could use clarification.

  • $\begingroup$ Might be a good idea to look at other questions about bounties on this site – there have been 34 of them, maybe some have already discussed what you bring up. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2021 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ As far as I can tell, when offering a bounty, the dialog contains the text: "this reputation is deducted immediately and cannot be refunded". It is shown, for example, in the screenshot in this answer: Point out that bounties are non-refundable. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2021 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ Since you seem to look for such instances, here are users who offered large part of their reputation in bounties: data.stackexchange.com/mathoverflow/query/1296136/… data.stackexchange.com/mathoverflow/query/1296136/… (The second link is restrict to users with reputation at least 2, to remove suspended users. You can play around with the parameters if you wish.) $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2021 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ What was the wording before the change in 2013? $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I have added to my answer some screenshot from 2012 that I was able to find. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 4:47

3 Answers 3


Many other businesses require "non-refundable deposits", but should they fail to deliver the product or service through no fault of the customer, the deposit is refunded.

So as currently worded, the "cannot be refunded" message could easily be interpreted as describing a similar situation.

Adding the suggested "even if no answer is posted" would remove any possible misunderstanding, and would be trivial to implement.

If a minor change can improve communication and understanding, why wouldn't SE make it?

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    $\begingroup$ Apparently because everyone hates this suggestion lol, cest la vie. We're already wise to it so it's only potentially dangerous to new users, and if the community here doesn't care about that potential impact I'm not inclined to try and change minds. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 5:47

The fact that the bounties are not refundable is pointed out in the help center and marked in bold:

All bounties are paid for up front and non-refundable under any circumstances.

Also the dialog used when offering the bounty has this information - although it is in a smaller font, the text "this reputation is deducted immediately and cannot be refunded" is contained there. I will add a screenshot taken from this answer: Point out that bounties are non-refundable.

this reputation is deducted immediately and cannot be refunded

Since the text is already there, maybe you might clarify a bit what actually you want to change. (Simply change this text to a large font? Or should it be shown also in the dialog in bold?)

I'll add that the link in the text "learn more" goes to the article on bounties in the help center , which was mentioned above.

EDIT: The post I linked above mentions that the wording was changed in 2013. Gerry Myerson asked in a comment about the wording before that. In the question "Why can't I offer a bounty of 50 reputation?" I was able to find a screenshot from 2012. It seems that the dialog simply said "You can start a total of 3 simultaneous bounties" - without mentioning the fact that they aren't refundable.

screenshot of the bounty dialog

There are also some - rather exceptional and rare - cases when the bounty is actually returned to the user who offered it. But probably the short and basic information offered in these two places isn't suitable for including all the technical details.

Since you seem to be looking at the cases where large part of users' reputation was offered in bounties, I will add this SEDE query: Highest percentage of rep in bounties - only counting questions which are not deleted. I have restricted it to users with reputation at least two, so that the list is not dominated by the suspended users. (You can play around with the parameter more, if you wish to. For example, this is what you get for the default values. )

Concerning your suggestion to get partial refund of the bounty in some cases, I will add link to a feature request on Meta Stack Exchange from 2018: Partial bounty refund for good question with no answers. (At the moment, score is -10, so this idea does not seem to have much support from the community.) To some extent, also the following posts are related: Offer bounty refund on “good” question with no answers and Would it be better if bounties were NOT like ads?

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the detailed post as always Martin, it is much appreciated. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecRhea I left a few related comments in my chatroom - since I did not want to create a long comment thread here. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 5:59

I'm going to make a sort of meta-comment that might explain the negative reaction that people have to this question. I think there are two issues:

  1. I think that many people (including me) find the whole idea of MO-reputation kind of silly and distracting. Getting worked up over it is just not a good use of anyone's time.

  2. In my experience, bounties here don't have the effect that many new users want them to have. I think that most highly active users answer questions that they find mathematically interesting, and ignore others. The presence of a bounty won't move the dial on that at all.

I actually am tempted to make a counter-proposal that bounties be eliminated, but they do serve an occasional useful function (e.g. I know people who have decided that their reputation has gotten high enough to be a little embarrassing in the real world, so they use bounties to transfer it over to people who have answered interesting questions). But if I were you I would not waste too much time with them.

  • $\begingroup$ I understand that rep is a pretty silly mechanic overall, but it still has bearing on how a question/answer is received. Over on stackoverflow I've heard rumors about rep getting people jobs, but I don't expect any such mechanic to carry over to MO in the foreseeable future. Recently I've been happy to see people responding extra-positively to appropriate posts by new users if anything, here's hoping the trend keeps up. (also it seems like worrying about excessively high rep is equal in silliness to worrying about low rep) $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 6:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlecRhea: The high-tech industry is completely different from academia. I don't think that MO reputation will ever play a role in academic hiring. I think that giving consistently insightful answers over a long period of time might have a small secondary effect, but I am not aware of anyone whose answers were interesting enough for this to matter who did not also have a stellar research record. And the numerical score will remain irrelevant in all cases. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree that a track record of good answers would be more likely to have an impact than the number under a name, but I can't see the future. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ (also I would probably support bounties being eliminated, it would fix the issue I'm talking about in this post) $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 2:12
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    $\begingroup$ @AlecRhea: If I remember correctly, you're still an undergraduate. I've been playing this game for a long time, so you've just got to trust me: there is no set of circumstances in which a person's numerical MO score will ever play a role in academic hiring. One doesn't need psychic powers to see this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ I'm actually technically a dropout since 2018, but the point that you have more experience in academia stands irrespective. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ Precise reputation might be silly, but the powers that rep afford, once over certain thresholds, are not. Loosing capabilities of how one interacts with the site is annoying, because it's not like the bounty-awarder loses the part of their brain that permitted them to use said capabilities, and need to build it up again. (The question is of course moot for someone with multiple thousands of rep, but early on the attainment of every new privilege feels hard-fought) $\endgroup$
    – David Roberts Mod
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 4:49

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