Track Your Refunds or Get Ripped Off

By Andrea Karim on 6 March 2007 (Updated 10 June 2007) comments

“Refunds” are supposedly different from “rebates”, although honestly, you might never know it, since both are difficult to obtain. I find that lately, I’ve had to harass the heck out of companies, particularly companies that primarily do business via mail order or on the internet, to get my money back even after returning a product.

In the past, when I treated money with a devil-may-care attitude, I’m sure I let dozens of potential refunds slip right by. I don’t believe that all retailers really want to rip off customers, but I don’t see refunds as a really high priority of theirs, either.

A few months ago, I realized that I had not received a refund for an anti-virus program that I had purchased months before, the installation of which had required a hard drive reformatting. Thinking that I was being taken for a ride, I emailed the company and demanded my money back. An apology was issued, along with an immediate refund.

It was after that experience that I started to keep track of expected refunds. Any time I returned an item to a non-local retailer, I noted the expected time frame for a refund, say 6 weeks, and then entered a reminder in my cell phone that would go off roughly 6 weeks later. When the reminder popped up, I’d check my account balance and see if the refund had been issued. I found that if I didn't do this, it was really easy to forget that I was owed money.

I returned quite a few items following this holiday season, so I was expecting at least six refunds. Guess how many came through in the “expected” time frame?

Yup. Zero. Not one. For every single refund, I had to email and/or call the company and ask for the refund. Almost all of them refunded my money within 24 hours, with the exception of Palmer Cash, the “vintage” t-shirt people who don’t seem to believe in customer service.

Which got me to thinking: after your returned merchadise is received, these companies are perfectly capable of processing your refund the same day, but they don’t. They tell you it might take 4-6 weeks. Are they expecting you to forget or get lazy about it, the same way companies that offer rebates try to make it as difficult as possible to get your money back?

My advice to people who don’t track their expenses as well as the budgeting types:

  • Whenever you return an item, set up and automated reminder (be it on your cell phone, email, online calendar, or regular ol’ wall calendar) so you’ll remember to look for the refund towards the end of the expected processing time. If I hadn't been tracking these expected refunds, I'd probably be out well over $400 right now.
  • As always, pay with a credit card if you have one. I don’t, so I use my debit card, which doesn’t offer protection like major credit cards. Mind you, I rarely buy big ticket items.
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