post-Christmas consumer tips

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If excessive Christmas-related consumption has left you too frazzled to join the shopping mall mob scene on Boxing Day 2006, you should perhaps count your blessings.  (update, 10 PM: And, be thankful you weren’t a sales clerk on “returns day,” like Bob Newhart circa 1957 – “Near death of a salesman,” New York Times, Dec. 26, 2006) Rather than hunt for a parking space, stay parked at your computer a little longer, and take advantage of some free tips we’ve discovered around the internet for the wise consumer, giftee, and/or taxpayer:

XmasOrnamentRS Consumer World’s Annual Return Policy Survey — The CW report says “If you must battle the crowds this week on the return lines, expect stores to continue to enforce complicated and restrictive return policies. In Consumer World’s annual survey of return policies, the secret limits to keep you off the “returners blacklist” are revealed, the extended deadlines for holiday returns are listed, as well as tips for many happy returns.” Remember

Consumer rights vary from state to state with respect to product returns. Generally speaking, a store can set up any return policy it wants, whether it is “all sales final”, “merchandise credit only”, or “all returns in 30 days”. Most states require the policy to be clearly disclosed to the buyer prior to purchase, usually by means of a sign. Some states do not consider a disclosure that only appears on the sales receipt to meet this requirement. It is not unreasonable, however, to require customers to provide a sales slip or gift receipt to establish where and when the item was purchased, and at what price.

XmasOrnamentGS  Click to find state and local consumer protection offices.  A lot of civil servants are taking annual leave this week, but I’m sure they’ll be able to help with unsolved consumer issues when they return in 2007.  Of course, self-helpers can often find information on their rights, and answers to problems, directly at the government websites.

afterthought (Dec. 27, 2006):  “If a retailer didn’t deliver as promised or if you feel you’ve been ripped off, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some tips for you,” on a page called Problems with Holiday Purchases?.  If you suspect the business may have broken the law, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, by calling the FTC toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov.  Of course, you shouldn’t “make a federal case” out of every consumer disappointment.  The FTC advises:

Get Satisfaction
If you have an unsatisfactory shopping experience, the best course of action is to contact the retailer. Look for an address to write to or a phone number to call. If you’ve never heard of the seller, check on its location and reputation with the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney general’s office.

If you’re dissatisfied with the way the matter is handled, take your business elsewhere in the future. However, it is important to recognize that while some business practices – such as notifying the consumer that the order will be delayed in a less-timely manner than the consumer may like – may be poor customer service – they’re not necessarily against the law.

XmasOrnamentRS  If our links on Gift Cards don’t answer all your related questions, you might want to see the Wall Street Journal article “Sell or swap gift cards,” Dec. 24, 2006.  Don’t contribute to the expected total of $3.5 billion in unused gift cards.  The WSJ article links to sites that let you sell or swap or purchase gift cards that just didn’t fit the recipient.

XmasOrnamentGS  Thinking of buying an automobile at those much-advertised year-end sales?  Stop first at the Consumer Reports list of best and worst year-end auto deals.

XmasOrnamentRS  If last-minute donations are part of your year-end tax reduction plans, don’t forget to asceratin whether your target is a tax-qualified charity, using the iRS Charity Search. Also, remember that “Recent Tax Law Changes May Affect People Giving to Charity: IRS Offers Tips for Year-End Donations” (Dec. 14, 2006). For example:

  • Rules for Clothing and Household Items (IR-2006-192, Dec. 14, 2006) “To be deductible, clothing and household items donated to charity after Aug. 17, 2006, must be in good used condition or better.”
  • Also, the Illinois CPA Society offers tips to consider doing before December 31 to help save money and minimize your 2006 tax bill, in their Top 10 Year-End Tax Tips sheet

turkeySil Finally, if your brother-in-law tried to impress you over turkey yesterday, with a long list of ways for you to totally avoid taxes, you may want to read (or send him) the IRS Tax Scams/Consumer Alert webpage.   Better yet, download the 64-page “The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments (Nov. 30, 2006).

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