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Do you know your consumer rights? Take our quiz to find out.

Everything you need to know about warranties, credit cards, return policies, and advertising

Published: April 16, 2014 12:00 PM

Are you a savvy consumer? Do you pity the poor merchant that tries to pull as fast one on you? Play our Are You a Good Consumer? game to find out. The answers are at the bottom of this page.

 

1. TRUE OR FALSE? My refrigerator stopped working just three weeks after the warranty expired, so I’m out of luck.

Separate from any written warranty you may get from the store or manufacturer, state laws require that most products come with a so-called implied warranty of merchantability, an unwritten assurance that they will be free of substantial defects and last a reasonable amount of time (although implied warranties generally last for no more than four years). While merchants can get around this by selling products using such terms as "as-is", 11 states (Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia) and Washington, D.C. don’t allow merchants to sell items as-is. And you'll rarely see as-is sales in walk-in stores, even where they're allowed. But that's not the case with most manufacturers and retail websites, where implied warranty disclaimers are common. Read a manufacturer's warranty or website's terms and conditions to see what we mean.

What to do: If a product is defective or breaks in an unreasonably short period, ask the retailer and/or manufacturer to make good. If that doesn't work and you want to assert your implied warranty rights, you might consider suing in small claims court or contacting an attorney experienced in consumer law. Another option, if you purchased the item using a credit card, is to check whether the card automatically extends the manufacturer’s warranty for up to a year or so.
 

2. TRUE OR FALSE?: A store has a sign requiring a $10 minimum purchase for credit card transactions. I didn’t have any other form of payment with me, so I was out of luck for the $8.99 item I wanted to buy.

Until 2010, this probably would have been false because of credit card network rules prohibiting merchants from imposing credit card minimums. But at the behest of business groups, Congress added a little-known provision to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act allowing merchants to impose a minimum purchase requirement of up to $10 for credit card purchases, as long as they treat all credit cards the same.

What to do: The easiest thing is to carry some cash just in case you encounter this in a walk-in store. Or you can buy an additional item to meet the $10 threshold, as long as it’s something you actually want and the price is right. Another option may be to use a debit card. But since debit cards don’t provide the same protections as credit cards—an important consideration when buying online—it’s probably best to shop elsewhere.

3. TRUE OR FALSE?: If I successfully dispute a purchase with my credit card issuer the company that initially charged my card still can legally pursue me.

Just because you’re credit card issuer gave you a chargeback doesn’t mean a company can’t go after you, perhaps by hiring a collection agency or even filing a lawsuit.

What to do: If you have a problem with a product or service, try working things out with the business that provided it first. Before requesting a chargeback, make sure you’re in the right. Just because you didn’t like a product you purchased doesn’t automatically give you the right to dispute the charge.

Are you immune to advertising tricks? Find out by reading "Don’t Let These Ad Traps Catch You."

4. TRUE OR FALSE?: Health laws prohibit me from returning that bathing suit I decided looks terrible on me.

While it’s possible there’s a state or local law banning returns of bathing suits, earrings, underwear, and other personal items, generally laws don't prohibit such returns. Still, a store can choose to adopt a policy that doesn’t allow returns of these items or anything else, as long as it let's you know what it is before you buy.

What to do: Check the retailer’s return policy. If these items aren’t specifically excluded, you can return them under the store’s general rules. But if something is defective or it's not what you ordered, it doesn’t matter what the return policy is, take it back.

5. TRUE OR FALSE?: You see an espresso machine advertised in your newspaper for an amazing $49, but it turns out to be a misprint. Although the actual price is $249, the store has to honor the advertised deal.

Stores generally aren’t required to honor an incorrect price that is the result of a legitimate mistake, such as a misprint in an ad or shelf price tag. But there are exceptions. In some states, if a product scans at a higher price than advertised, retailers are required to provide consumers with some benefit, such as a free item or the difference between the advertised and scanned price, plus some bonus. But there may be restrictions. Connecticut, for instance, limits the amount of the freebie to $20, and the rule applies only to consumer commodities, such as food—not to espresso makers.

What to do. Use a Web search to check your state’s law or go to your state’s consumer protection website. Some states require retailers to post signs outlining the law’s requirements; check the entrance, customer-service area, or checkout counter for them. And stay alert at the checkout line. If an item rings up too high, tell a store manager or customer-service representative. In some states, it’s up to the consumer to notice the error and request the free item or other benefit. Some stores have adopted similar policies voluntarily. If the pricing problem is a trend at a particular store, complain to your state consumer protection office.

How did you do?

Got them all right? Congratulations. You’re the ultimate consumer who knows your rights. No one is putting anything past you.

Got one or two wrong? Not bad, but keep researching and reading. There's more to learn.

Got them all wrong? It's a tough world out there. Don't go out shopping alone.

—Anthony Giorgianni

1. False. 2. True. 3. True. 4. False. 5. False.
   

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