Now is the time to worry about holiday returns

Now is the time to worry about holiday returns

Q. I just bought a present to give someone for Christmas. The store told me that if she didn’t like it she could exchange it, but that there were no returns. I decided not to buy it because I was afraid she wouldn’t like it and it was a small store 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, 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 and the store agree to. 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 conspicuous sign stating its policy at the register has made that a term of your contract. If you make a purchase knowing that term, 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. About 15 years ago, I did business with a company and never paid my bills. I was shocked to find out that they still refuse to deal with me until I pay. Isn’t there some sort of limitations period for collecting a debt?

A. There are limitation periods for any type of legal action. For example, most debts cannot be enforced after four years. There also are limits on how long such information may be reported on your credit report. In most cases, after seven years the information becomes obsolete and cannot be reported.

There are no limitations, however, on how long you “owe” a debt. In fact, until it is paid or you file bankruptcy, the money is owed. If the person you owe the money to does not want to deal with you until the debt is paid, he has a legal right to do so. It may seem “shocking” to you, but it is obviously a matter of some importance to the person you owe the money to.


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