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Consumer Watch: Most exchanges extend deadline for returning Christmas gifts

Jan. 7, 2011 - 12:14PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 7, 2011 - 12:14PM  |  
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Have you returned those unwanted or ill-fitting gifts yet? You probably still have time.

We're all trying to make the best use of our resources. That includes returning or exchanging gifts. The person who gave you that gift hopefully was trying to spend his money wisely in getting you something you'd love.

If it didn't turn out that way, make the best use of those dollars spent on you and get something you really do love.

It's always easier to return or exchange a gift if you have the receipt, so ask the gift giver for it in a tactful way. (Maybe that ugly sweater "doesn't quite fit.")

There are deadlines for returning items to both brick-and-mortar and online stores. Navy Exchange Service Command and Army and Air Force Exchange Service officials have extended their deadlines a month beyond the holidays.

Navy exchanges. An extended return policy through Jan. 30 applies to original purchases made from Nov. 17 through Dec. 24, either in a brick-and-mortar store or through the exchange Web store. That includes items normally covered by the 14-day return policy, such as computers, computer equipment, software and digital cameras, and the 45-day return policy for all other merchandise. Bring any packaging material along with your receipt when making a return. If you don't have a receipt, refunds will be loaded onto an NEX gift card.

Army and Air Force exchanges. An extended return policy through Jan. 31 applies to items bought from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. While the AAFES standard return policy states that items in new condition may be exchanged or returned within 15, 30 or 90 days, depending on the type of item, the extended policy will apply. This affects jewelry and watches, camcorders, televisions, digital cameras, furniture, mattresses, major appliances and gas-powered equipment, which normally must be returned within 30 days; and computers and unopened software/peripherals, CDs, DVDs and video games, which normally must be returned within 15 days. For other items, you'd get 90 days anyway. If you don't have a receipt, refunds will be loaded onto an AAFES gift card.

The AAFES return deadline also applies to items bought at the Exchange Online store or through the catalog. Some flexibility is allowed because of shipping times. Items can also be returned to the nearest AAFES, Marine Corps, Navy or Coast Guard exchange.

Marine Corps exchange: There is no overall policy to extend refund deadlines for holiday purchases, but some commands may have put "adjustments for holiday gift-giving returns" into effect, said Bryan Driver, a spokesman for the Marine Corps' personal and family readiness division. The standard is 45 days for new items in original packaging and 14 days for electronics in original packaging. Diamond jewelry is subject to appraisals before a refund is given.

For returns at civilian stores outside the gate, check your receipt for details on time frames for returns, and check websites for specific requirements.

Why a commissary surcharge?

The question comes up often: Why does the commissary tack a surcharge onto your tab?

By law, commissary items are sold "at cost" from the manufacturer or distributor, with no markup or profit. The 5 percent surcharge pays for new commissary construction, renovations and repairs, equipment, and information technology in the stores.

In fiscal 2010, commissary customers paid $306 million in surcharges. Among other things, that money paid to complete stores at Chievres, Belgium; Naval Air Station New Orleans; and Fort Campbell, Ky.; and for major renovations that are underway at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

The surcharge has been set at 5 percent for 27 years, and it's the same at every commissary. It's added to the gross total grocery bill, before coupons are applied, and is figured into official savings calculations, along with any sales tax or value-added tax applied to retail grocery stores.

Commissary customers save an average of 31.5 percent compared with retail grocery stores.

The commissary agency's historian, Pete Skirbunt, says surcharge dollars have paid for construction projects since 1974, but experimental surcharges existed as long as 121 years ago.

"There was a surcharge in 1879, and another in the 1920s, but the first permanent modern surcharge of 2 percent was established in 1952," he said.

Questions? Comments? E-mail staff writer from reader">Karen Jowers at

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