Return Policy Gotchas

Last year, a whopping 219-billion dollars worth of products were returned. Consumer Reports ShopSmart says in order not to get burned later put return policies on your radar now.

Even before you buy, you should look for a store with a good return policy.

Target is among the better stores on ShopSmart magazine's list, but plenty of others have return policies that aren't so great.

"Policies you want to avoid: ones that won't give you a full refund or that only give you a small window of time to return something," said Consumer Reports Jody Rohlena.

Home Depot allows you to return many items within 90 days, but the store reserves the right to limit or refuse to accept the return of merchandise at any time and for any reason.

"Another restrictive policy: Office Depot. You only have 14 days to return furniture and electronics," said Rohlena.

And if you've bought an electronics item at one of their stores and opened it-even something as basic as a phone-the company will offer and exchange only-not a refund or store credit.

In fact, when it comes to electronics you should be careful to check the return policy wherever you shop.

"Very often you cannot return a laptop. But TVs and camcorders may not be returnable either." said Rohlena.

And some return costs that can add up: Restocking fees can be up to 25% of the cost of the item.

Don't forget return postage.

Also check whether you'll get a store credit only-no cash refund.

And to be sure someone gets the amount you paid for that perfect gift-and not the post-holiday sale price-remember to include a gift receipt in your package.

Consumer Reports ShopSmart says return policies vary significantly, but many retailers do relax their policies around the holidays.

So whether it's the holidays or not, do carefully check out return policies.

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