Return Policies: What You Should Know

There’s nothing more frustrating than buying something you spent months saving up for – only to discover it doesn’t work the way it should. Fortunately for U.S. shoppers, returning goods is as American as apple pie. Last year, consumers returned an estimated $816 billion worth of retail merchandise, according to the National Retail Federation.

But reality for the individual attempting a return is a little more complicated. Some retailers are cracking down on returns with stricter guidelines than their previous ones.

Things might be simpler if every store had the same return policy. To protect your hard-earned dollars, read below to find out what the law says about making returns. Understanding the differences between return policies may help you decide where and whether to make your next purchase.

Stores Don’t Always Have to Provide Refunds

The first thing to understand is that there is no law requiring stores to provide return policies or refund your money if you want to return a product. However, when a merchant does have a refund policy, that policy must be clearly posted so that shoppers can easily be informed of it.

What Types of Goods Are Most Often Returned?

There are many reasons that people decide to return something. An article of clothing someone gifted you doesn’t fit right. A piece of furniture doesn’t fit where you thought it would. Sometimes, people simply have a change of heart and want their money back. According to Statista, these were the most common types of items returned in 2021:

Clothing 88%
Shoes 44%
Electronics 43%
Home & Garden 24%


How to Raise Your Chances of Getting Your Money Back on a Return

When returning an item, a few factors will raise your chances of getting your money back. Of course, familiarity with the merchant’s return policy always helps. Here are some other factors that will make it more likely your request for a refund is accepted:

  1. Whether you have a digital or paper receipt
  2. How recently the item was purchased
  3. Whether the product is visibly broken or defective
  4. Did you inquire about the return policy (or are you relying on memory)?

Even your manner of requesting a refund can up your chances of getting your money back or store credit. The store manager may have discretion over whether to accept the return, particularly without proof of purchase. Online purchases are another story (see below).

What Information to Look for in a Return Policy

When shopping, find out whether a return policy exists at all. If there is one, the policy should be posted somewhere, but it’s always best to ask – and doing so will boost your odds in case of a return. The information legally required in return policies also lets you know how to properly return something:

  • The time frame for returns
  • Expected condition of returns
  • Whether refunds or in-store credit is provided
  • Any fees associated with returns
  • Any other return requirements
  • Clear and visible to customers

The Federal Trade Commission provides more information on solving customer problems such as returns.

Ask About Return Policies When Making Large In-Store Purchases

When shopping in person, the rule of thumb is simple: always ask about the return policy before making any significant purchase. Doing so might impact your desire to invest in that new flat-screen tv. Policies that only offer store credit in exchange for returns may benefit the store more than the customers. You could be stuck with credit for a shop that offers limited goods or doesn’t have any other items you need.

Get the Timeframe for Return Policies for Online Purchases

There is a little less flexibility when it comes to returning goods purchased online. Ecommerce stores tend to provide a 15 to 30-day window in which you can return a product and ask for a refund. Because you may be sending back the item before receiving your refund, it’s especially important to be aware of the merchant’s policy.

Head to Your Local Currency Exchange Next Time You’re Out Shopping

Being familiar with return policies is just one step to becoming a smart shopper. Learning to budget wisely and handle your funds intelligently are also vital to staying on top of your finances. If you’re concerned about overspending or are struggling with credit card debt, getting a prepaid debit cards might be a good way to

Stop by any Currency Exchange to pick up a prepaid debit card, cash a check, and take care of a whole range of financial tasks.

Want more tips on smart spending – and saving? Your nearby Community Currency Exchange (CCEA) can provide information and services on transportation, auto needs and financial advice for anyone who walks in the door. Check us out today!

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