It may seem early, but now is the time to worry about holiday returns

It may seem early, but now is the time to worry about holiday returns

Q. I went to buy a present to give someone for Christmas. The store told me that if she didn’t like it, she could exchange it, but there were no returns. I decided not to buy it because I was afraid she wouldn’t like it. The store was small without a lot of selection. Is it legal for a store to not allow you to return a gift and get a refund?

A. This is a great question, and with the holidays coming up, your timing is perfect. Not only is it legal for a store to limit a purchaser to an exchange or store credit, it is becoming more and more common. When you buy something, you enter into a contract with the store. The terms of that contract are what you agree to with the store. If nothing is said about returns or exchanges, the term is what a reasonable person would assume. In my opinion, most people think you can either return or exchange a gift you don’t like, and that would be the contract term if nothing were said.

On the other hand, the store may change that term, and if you make a purchase and agree to the new term, you and the person you give the gift to are both bound by that contract. For example, a business that tells you “exchanges only” or has a sign stating “store credit only no returns” at the register has made that a term of your contract. If you make a purchase knowing the store’s policy, it is part of your contract. The bottom line is simple —always ask about a store’s return policy before you make a purchase.

Q. I own a timeshare at a local lake. I don’t use it and can no longer afford the maintenance fees. How do I get rid of this thing? Can I force them to take it back? Can I just tell them I no longer want it?

A. Unfortunately, “getting rid” of a timeshare can be difficult. A timeshare interest is considered real estate. Unlike personal property such as a car, you cannot just give away and get rid of a real estate interest. Even if you tell them you do not want it, it still belongs to you and you will be responsible for the maintenance fees. To end your ownership, you must either get the company to agree to take the property back, sell it to someone else or donate the property to another entity. There are many companies offering to sell your timeshare interest. Before using one, be sure to carefully check it out, and don’t pay anything in advance.

Q. I gave a friend my credit card to use in an emergency. I told him to limit his use to $500. Without my permission, he used it to pay almost $1,000 for a television. What is my liability? Do I owe the credit card company for his charges to my account?

A. If you gave your friend permission to use your credit card, my opinion is that you are liable for the bills he incurred. The fact that he used it in a manner different from what you anticipated or charged more than you authorized probably doesn’t matter. The bottom line is to be careful with your credit cards. If you give your card to someone and say, “Don’t charge more than $500,” it is up to that person to stay within the limit. If he or she does not, you are responsible for the total amount charged. Of course, if you pay the credit card bill, you have the right to seek reimbursement from your friend.

Q. My wallet was stolen. The thief charged $2,500 to my credit card. Am I responsible?

A. Good news. Under federal law your maximum liability for the unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. In fact, you have no liability for any charges made after you report the loss. If your card is stolen, be sure to immediately call the credit card company. Dispute the charges with the credit card company and make it clear the charges are unauthorized.

Q. My mother is being harassed by a debt collector for her brother’s debts. The last phone call scared her because they threatened to take her house. How can I stop them from harassing her?

A. Debt collectors — that is, someone collecting a debt for another — are strictly regulated by federal law. Based on what you say, this debt collector has violated several provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This law prohibits a debt collector from contacting anyone other than the debtor about the debt, except to get location information. It also prohibits any harassing conduct or making threats of conduct prohibited by law. Because Texas law does not allow the debt collector to take your mother’s house for her brother’s debts, threatening to do so is unlawful.

I suggest you take a look at the debt collection section of my website, Your mother should then let the collector know she knows her legal rights, demand he stop contacting her, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and consider speaking with a private consumer attorney.

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