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You bought a dress for a holiday party that looked great when you tried it on in the fitting room. But in better lighting, it’s an icky color that you wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Or maybe you bought an HDTV for your family room and discovered (too late) that it’s way too big for the spot you picked out for it.

In many cases, you’ll be able to return the dress or the TV to the merchant. But if you bought something on sale or if it’s a discontinued item, you might be stuck.

If you’re in a situation where the retailer won’t give you a refund, then a perk known as “return protection” might help you recoup all or at least some of your money. Like the other purchase-related perks I’ve written about over the past few weeks, this benefit isn’t standard on all credit cards. Return protection varies by payment network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover), but this benefit can also vary by issuer (the bank that issues the card).

To know for sure if you have return protection, you’ll have to read the terms of your credit card agreement. If it’s unclear (wouldn’t that be a shocker?), you can call your card issuer and ask if you’re covered. Even if you have coverage, note that some items will be excluded.

Here are a few basic things you should know:

  • American Express: You get return protection on all of their credit cards. Really, this is an outstanding perk. You must file a claim within 90 days of the purchase. American Express will refund the purchase price up to $300 per item and up to $1,000 per year. Call 1-800-297-8019 to get the process started.
  • Visa: Many Visa Signature credit cards offer return protection. If you purchase the item with your eligible Visa card, you can return it within 90 days of your purchase. You get a maximum of $250 per claim and up to $1,000 per year. Call Visa customer service at 1-800-847-2911 or file claims online.
  • MasterCard: Online disclosures for MasterCard are unclear about which cards have return protection. From what I can tell, you have to file a claim within 60 days of your purchase. Check the terms you received when you got your card or call Mastercard at 1-800-622-7747 and ask if your specific card has coverage.
  • Discover: Return protection isn’t offered on their cards.

Returning the Item

Once you get the claim started, you’ll be told what to mail along with the item you’re returning, such as the store receipt and the credit card receipt. Before you mail it, make copies of your receipts just in case something happens in transit. Be aware that you’ll have to pay for postage and shipping.

And don’t try to return the item unless it’s “like new” and, if applicable, in good working condition. In other words, don’t wear that dress to multiple parties and then try to get your money back. Believe it or not, there a few people who would try this.

Image: saxarocks, via Flickr.com

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