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Don't make these 3 mistakes if you have to return a holiday gift

Don't forget the receipt.

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Twenty/20

The holiday season is a time of giving — but you might not always get the gift you want.

If you find yourself with another set of flannel pajamas (like the ones you already own), it makes sense to get familiar with return policy changes now to avoid a big hassle down the line.

Major retailers have been forced to alter their normal procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic to give shoppers more options, or specific restrictions, on returns of unwanted goods, according to a new analysis from resource site ConsumerWorld.org.

Amazon, for instance, expanded its return window by a month to allow returns of most items shipped starting October 1 to be sent back as late as January 31. Staples, on the other hand, no longer accepts returns of personal items like earbuds based on health concerns.

Here are a few tips to consider if you have to send an item back, and three big "no-noes" to avoid in order to make the most of your holiday gifting experience.

Don't make returns in person right away

Avoid standing in long lines and fighting holiday crowds immediately after Christmas if you can. Make your return through the mail or another noncontact method like a drop-off location instead, experts suggest. That could lessen the chance of being exposed to any potential virus-related risks.

Not all outlets may accept contactless returns, however. If there is no other option, "don't race back the day after Christmas," says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org. "Wait a few days. The lines will be shorter" and you won't be forced to stand in a crowd.

Don't wait too long before initiating a return, either

While you will want to take a beat before returning at a physical store, you won't want to drag your feet if you can send the item back through a contactless method. Return policies vary by store and by state, but there's a certain period of time you have to complete the transaction.

This year, a number of outlets have extended the amount of time shoppers have to return gifts they don't want. In many cases, you're eligible for a return on unopened or unused items through January 2021. But that isn't the case at every store. Make sure to check the return window and set a reminder for yourself so you don't miss it.

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Don't lose your receipt

If your holiday gift came with a receipt, that will help your case in taking the item back and receiving a refund. Returns without a sales slip or gift receipt are subject to the store's return policy, meaning you may only get a merchandise credit, an exchange, or nothing at all.

Consumers must remember, though, that only the original purchaser, in most cases, can get back cash or credit for returns, says Dworsky. "Even with a gift receipt, most stores will only provide the gift recipient with either an even exchange or a merchandise credit or gift card."

It may be embarrassing, "but you could always ask the gift giver for the receipt saying that you want to get your proper size or preferred color, for example," he says. "Without a receipt, the store may only give you credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in the recent past," if anything.

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"Bringing back packaged goods without the package is another big no-no," says Dworsky. "Check their policy on returns without a receipt before you go to the store."

Also, keep in mind that some items like clothing or personal wear can't be exchanged, so make sure to read the fine print. If you run into an issue with a valid return, try contacting the store manager or customer service line of the retailer first. The next option is to file a complaint with the state attorney general's office or to speak with your local consumer agency.

Many companies that accept returns via mail have lengthened the time between when your returns arrive and when they process your refund, in order to adhere to extra safety precautions and other factors brought on by the pandemic. So it may take a while to see the money hit your account.

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