Last-minute gifts

Dvorkin On Debt: Many Happy Returns

For many Americans, Friday is the traditional day of opening gifts surrounded by friends and family — and Saturday begins the tradition of secretly returning many of those gifts you don’t want.

It may seem cynical to write about returning gifts before you even get them, but as I reported two weeks ago, 12 percent of holidays shoppers will buy their gifts on credit cards “with no hopes of paying off the balance quickly.” If you can convert unwanted presents in cash that can pay down your credit card bills and avoid high interest rates — well, those are gift that keep on giving.

Here’s how to handle returns the right way.

1. Don’t open that present!

If you unwrap a gift in front of the person giving it to you, and you instantly know you don’t want it, smile and say thank you — then set it aside. If it comes in a box or jar or bag, don’t break the seal. Some stores don’t accept items that have been opened. Which leads to…

2. Look up the return policy

These vary widely. For example, Sears requires a receipt, and that receipt must show the purchase happened within 30 days — which means if your gift was bought on Black Friday, you have only a couple days after Christmas to take it back. Even worse, some Sears items come with a 15 percent “restocking fee.”

Meanwhile,  Costco lets you return items any time, except for electronics, which still give you 90 days. JCPenney doesn’t require receipts. Bed Bath & Beyond lets you return items by mail and even covers the cost of shipping.

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3. Bring multiple forms of ID

It might seem odd that stores want to know who you are when you’re returning a gift you didn’t buy. However, it’s an effective fraud deterrent. The National Retail Federation says up to 6.5 percent of returns are from fraudsters, so asking for ID means stores can see if you’re returning dozens of items yer round or just a couple after the holidays.

4. You can always re-gift

That sounds even worse than returning, but it’s quite common. American Express found many of us re-gift to friends (41 percent), coworkers (32 percent), and even siblings (29 percent). Debt.com even shows you 5 tips for re-gifting without getting caught!

Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.

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