How to take the hassle out of your gift returns!

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Shoppers at the mall
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Just when you thought the shopping frenzy was over, millions of consumers are heading back to the stores to make returns and exchanges. Although this seems like a much more simple task compared to trying to locate the perfect present for a loved one, it could end up being an even bigger hassle. Not only should you expect large shopping crowds and long lines at customer service, but those who are missing receipts or wait to long to bring back an item will have even more struggles to deal with.

Follow these five tips to make the most of your holiday returns

Study the return policies

Retail policies differ from store to store so it’s important to review each in detail to understand the deadline, how store credit can be used, what to do if you don’t have a receipt and if you’ll be charged restocking fees. When dealing with online orders, you may be able to dodge return shipping fees by exchanging for an item or bringing it back to a physical location nearby. If your exchange is eligible for merchandise credit, find out how long it will be valid for and if it can be used to make a purchase online. Ultimately, selecting merchandise credit may be a better option if you don’t find something you really need or want when you go to the store. This gives you time to make a better buying decision later.

Keep original packaging

Some stores may charge shoppers a restocking fee on certain items for up to 15% of the original purchase price. This is typical with electronic purchases or big-ticket items like TVs and furniture. Beware that Amazon Marketplace sellers may also charge a restocking fee of up to 50 percent, depending on the condition of the item. In some cases you may be able to negotiate the removal of this fee if the item does not appear how it was displayed online or doesn’t perform to it’s described capabilities. Therefore, make sure to keep all original boxes and don’t open packages you don’t plan to keep.

RELATED: Here are the stores with the best return policies

Sell items you can’t return

More than one third of Americans let extra gifts linger at home after the holidays so if there’s something that just wasn’t right or you don’t have a receipt, consider selling those items online to make more money back. You should also sell unwanted gadgets, clothing and accessories that have been replaced by holiday gifts. There are specialty sites to unload many of your unwanted gifts: selling gadgets at Gazelle.com; clothing at thredUP.com; and sporting equipment at SidelineSwap.com.

Plus-size your exchange

You can stretch those return dollars by shopping sale racks, using coupons and getting cash back on those exchanges. Expect an abundance of end-of-year clearance events and promotions from favorite stores. Apparel, holiday decor and video games are especially good buys after Christmas. If you aren’t sure what you want to get in exchange, request merchandise credit for the returned item. You can then shop online and get cash back on purchases using store credit by signing up at swagbucks.com, where you can get deals like 7% back at Macy’s and 10% cash back at JCPenney.

Check your credit card’s protection policy

If you bought one too many gifts for loved ones and need to make a return during this busy rush, you may put it off to avoid those crowds. However, if you’re attempting to bring it back past the retailer’s deadline or are missing a receipt you could get stuck with a clearance price or store merchandise credit only. This is when your credit card can help you. Many cards provide return protection by extending periods to send an item back along with other helpful perks for purchases made with the card. You will likely need to send the merchandise directly to the credit card issuer, but they will usually cover shipping costs. Just make sure the goods are in like-new condition.

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Andrea Woroch About the author:
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps Americans find easy ways to live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers and super savers. As an established on-air contributor and sought after media source, ...Read more
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