A guide to returning gifts during the holidays

WASHINGTON — Christmas gifts have been opened, and many people may be left wondering, “What were they thinking?” as they seek ways to return gifts.

Kiplinger Personal Finance editor Janet Bodnar breaks down what consumers need to know when returning.

Know What to Expect

Don’t expect to get cash back for gifts if you don’t have a receipt, Bodnar says.

“It’s more likely that you’re going to get store credit or a gift card, and it’s likely that it’s going to be for the item’s current prices,” she says. “It actually may be less than what it cost when it was originally purchased for you.”

One exception is Walmart. The retailer will accept items without a receipt that cost less than $25 — and they give cash back, she says.


How Long Do You Have?

Retailers have different return policies, so check to make sure returns fit into the window.

Here are some popular stores’ policies:

  • Macy’s – returns accepted at any time
  • Target – 90 days
  • Sears – 90 days for clothing, 30 days for electronics

“The main thing to remember is, if you need to take something back, do it by early January to make sure you don’t get caught,” Bodnar says.


The Best for Returns

Some stores get a gold star when it comes to their return policies, Bodnar says.

Costco, Kohl’s, LL Bean and Nordstrom have some of the best policies.

Other retailers have more strict return policies through the year, but relax them during the holidays.

For example, Best Buy usually has a 15-day return period, but during the holidays, it gives consumers until Jan. 15 to return items purchased after Nov. 1.


Returning Online Purchases

If a gift was purchased for you online, you can often take it back to a brick-and-mortar store.

“It’s a little bit less hassle and you don’t have to pay return shipping,” she says.

In many cases, retailers — especially shoe retailers such as Zappos — will pay the shipping on returns or give labels to help with shipping returns.

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February 24, 2024 | (Sarah Beth Hensley)
Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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