Posted by Elisabeth Leamy, Fri Dec 14 2007, 10:27pm

It's the holiday shopping season, which means next comes the post-holiday returns season

It's the holiday shopping season, which means next comes the post-holiday returns season. Many consumers are under the unfortunate impression that you have three days to return anything you buy. IT'S NOT TRUE! I'm not sure why this consumer myth lives on. But I do know where it came from. The Federal Trade Commission has a helpful regulation called, the "Cooling-Off Rule," but it ONLY applies to sales made away from the seller's place of business.

It's sort of a quaint regulation, really, from the days when women spent their days at home and overbearing salesmen hawked their wares door to door. This limited 3-day right to return applies to purchases of $25 or more made at your home or workplace or at short-term facilities rented by the seller like hotel rooms, convention centers and fairgrounds. Some products are exempt from the Cooling-Off Rule, including real estate, insurance and securities. Vehicles sold at temporary locations (like auto shows) are exempt as long as the seller has a permanent place of business.

Salespeople who sell you something from a temporary location are required to inform you of your three-day cancellation rights and give you a cancellation form. To cancel, you fill out the form or write a letter of your own and mail it to the seller. You must make sure it's postmarked by midnight of the third business day after you made the purchase. The seller then has ten days to give you a refund and 20 days to pick up the items you purchased.

I mention all this because if you purchase something that does not fall into the narrow scope of the FTC's Cooling-Off Rule, the store or company has the right to set its OWN return policy. In other words, before you buy, you need to check the seller's policy and make sure you really want the merchandise. Happy shopping! And many happy returns…