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How to Handle Holiday Returns Without Hassle

American Express (AXP) covers purchases made with its card through a return protection program that will refund cardholders up to $300 if a retailer refuses a return within 90 days of purchase. There are a few stipulations, so cardholders may want to check their policy before putting in a claim. For $9 a month or $79 a year, ShopRunner provides free return shipping and organizes online receipts.

Free apps such as ReceiptGuru, Slice, Lemon and Neat can also help organize online receipts and take scans or photos of your paper receipts. They'll let you know when return deadlines are coming up, what the return policies are at various retailers and how you can best use coupons and store credit.

Treat online and in-store purchases differently

While some retailers have begun making items bought on the Web and at their stores returnable to either, others just refuse to mix inventory. Sports Authority is notorious for not accepting returns of items bought online at its stores, but at least it's consistent.

Macy's mix-and-matches return policies from time to time, but won't take area rugs or lighting bought online back at its stores. Ann Taylor already doesn't like the idea of you "wardrobing" its clothes for a holiday party and sending them back, which is why it won't take back swimwear, extended-calf boots or "wedding and events" clothing in-store, and Loft has the same policy for maternity and swimwear items. Gap also has a habit of marking items from OldNavy.com, Gap.com and BananaRepublic.com as "Return by Mail Only," so it pays to read the packaging before making a return.

Don't return items this week

What are you, mad? Unless you really enjoy standing in line and arguing with people and felt you didn't get enough of that experience on Black Friday, there's no reason to be in the store the day after or even the weekend after Christmas.

If you have a sales slip or gift receipt, the item is in new condition, unopened and still has all its packing material, there's no reason for you to brave the madness for returns you could just as easily make next week. Just check your return policy and make sure you're not hitting a store during its post-holiday sale, when it may try to refund you the current, lower selling price.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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