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When you can get your money back, and when you can’t.

We’ve all made that impulse purchase that turns out to be not such a great idea. Sometimes we realise too late and we’re stuck with it.

But if you know you don’t want or need something soon enough, then you might be able to get your money back. Whether you can or not depends on where you bought it, and how you paid for it.

You bought it in a shop

Legally, the shop doesn’t have to accept returns when you change your mind. This can even include simply wanting to swap clothes for a different size.

Fortunately, many, if not most, shops will happily give you your money back if you give them your receipt.

There’s normally something like 28 days or a month to bring your return back. And these are often extended in the run up to Christmas. But do check the shop’s policy, ideally before you buy anything.

Your money will be refunded to your original card. If you don’t have it, you might be able to get a gift card. But some shops are cracking down on this to prevent money laundering and fraud. I took a coat back to M&S for Becky this week and they wouldn’t accept it without her bank card.

The receipt is really important. Without it, the shop doesn’t have to accept the item back, or might refund you at the current selling price, which could be lower if it’s now in a sale.

If a shop’s return policy doesn’t include refunds, it might let you exchange it or give you a credit note to spend at a later date. Not great, but it’s better than being stuck with something you won’t use or is the wrong size.

When shops can refuse a return even if they have a returns policy

There are some exclusions, even if a shop does offer refunds. Personalised or made to order items can’t be returned, and perishable items such as fresh flowers or frozen foods won’t be accepted either.

You might also get turned down if the original packaging is missing, damaged or opened. My mum spotted in-store at John Lewis that you now can’t return electronics that have been opened. She’d bought a new phone, but the handset didn’t get reception in the garden – the whole point of her buying it.

The store’s justification was that if you’ve seen it in-store you know what your buying. Fortunately my mum had ordered it online for click and collect, so she had further rights and got her refund (more on this in a sec). But it shows you just be extra careful when unpacking anything.

It’s different if you’re returning it because it’s faulty

It’s a different story for refunds if something is damaged or stops working. In this case the shop needs to give you refund. You’ve 30 days to take something back in this case.

After this you’ve six months after buying to ask for a repair or replacement. And if the shop can’t do that, then you can get a refund.

You bought it online

You actually get better rights if you order and pay online. You have 14 days from receiving your items to decide to send them back and let the retailer know – no questions asked. You’ve then got another 14 days to return them.

You can get the original delivery charge back too, but you might need to pay to return it. Every retailer is different, so it’s worth checking before you buy.

A trick here, where possible, is to order online for click and collect. Some shops, like Argos, will let you pick things up one the same day.

And you get the same rights as buying in a shop if something is faulty.

Your rights also vary depending on how you paid

You paid with a credit card

Anything you buy with a credit card that costs £100 or more is protected by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

This law means credit card providers are equally responsible if something goes wrong with a purchase. So if a retailer is refusing to refund you, you can try the credit card company.

However, this is only going to be effective if there’s an issue with your purchase or it just doesn’t turn up. Changing your mind when a shop doesn’t have a returns policy won’t cut it.

You paid with a debit card

Here you can try for “chargeback”, as long as the purchase was under £100. This isn’t covered by a law, but if your bank agrees you’ve a fair claim for money back with 120 days of your purchase, then they can reverse the charge to your account.

You paid with a gift card

Sites like Zeek and shops like Tesco often sell gift cards at cut prices and I’m a fan of using discounted gift cards to shave a little more off the price you pay.

However there’s a danger with paying by gift card. If you decide to return your item, you will get the refund to a gift card. Why is this bad?

First, you need to make sure you keep the original gift card as some retailers will only refund to the one you paid with.

Second, you’re locked into shopping with that retailer again. It’s a small risk if we’re talking about a £30 M&S gift card. But it’s a lot worse if you’re left with £400 on one for Curry’s.

So if there’s a good chance you’ll take something back, avoid paying with a gift card unless you’ve already got one.

Zeek Extra review: Get a 7% boost on your shopping

How a credit card can protect what you buy

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