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Are All Sales Final?

ELIOT WAGONHEIM: For the most part, you have got to assume that once your name goes on the bottom line, you have agreed to what it says.

PETER HOLLAND: You as a buyer and you as a consumer, have the right and the duty and the responsibility to try to understand it as best you can and get help to understand it if you cannot understand it.

ELIOT WAGONHEIM: Do not count on the fact that you can come back in a couple of days and take it back. Because generally speaking, it just does not happen.

STEVE LOVEJOY: People think that there is a three-day buyer's remorse on car sales.

PETER HOLLAND: Right, that is what everyone believes and the answer is no.

STEVE LOVEJOY: There is not a three day remorse on car sales. Once you have signed on the dotted line and bought that car, taken title, taken delivery of that car, that is your car.

PETER HOLLAND: With very limited exceptions that three-day right to cancel that we all hear about does not exist. If you buy a house, the rule is you bought it. If you buy a car, the rule is you bought it.

STEVE LOVEJOY: There have been some advertised specials where dealers will take the car back if you are not happy with it.

JOSH DREIBAND: If it gets to me and you do not like the car, yes I am going to take the car back, but I can always speak for myself.

STEVE LOVEJOY: Generally speaking, that is not the case.

JOSH DREIBAND: Most dealers are going to tell you, you know what, you are an owner, congratulations. That is the law.

PETER HOLLAND: And there really is not that three-day right of rescission.

STEVE LOVEJOY: Check the return policy when you buy something retail to see what their policy is.

Ask now or forever hold your peace.

More on Josh Dreiband More on Peter Holland More on Stephen Lovejoy More on Eliot Wagonheim

Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware!

In most cases, you have to assume that when you buy something, it's yours -- whether you like it or not. Impulse buys, especially big ticket impulse buys, can be extremely dangerous.

That having been said, there are some limited, very limited exceptions that might help to remove a small percentage of buyer regrets. The Federal Trade Commission calls it the "Cooling-Off Rule." In general, the Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel purchases of $25 or more. Under the Cooling-Off Rule, your right to cancel for a full refund extends until midnight of the third business day after the sale.

Tiny Exception: The "Cooling-Off Rule"

Under the Cooling-Off Rule, the salesperson must tell you about your cancellation rights at the time of sale. The salesperson also must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt should be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel. The contract or receipt must be in the same language that's used in the sales presentation.

Ah, But Even the Exceptions Have Exceptions!!

Sorry to say, the Cooling-Off Rule only applies to very limited sales scenarios. It applies to sales at the buyer's home, workplace or dormitory, or at facilities rented by the seller on a temporary or short-term basis, like hotel or motel rooms, convention centers, fairgrounds and restaurants. The Cooling-Off Rule applies even when you invite the salesperson to make a presentation in your home.

But, wait, don't get too excited about taking those infra-red glow-in-the-dark night goggles back to the door-to-door novelty salesman that sold it to you. The law has some tricky exceptions! Some types of sales can't be canceled even if they do occur in locations normally covered by the Rule. The Cooling-Off Rule does not cover sales that:

  • are under $25
  • are for goods or services not primarily intended for personal, family or household purposes
  • are made entirely by mail or telephone
  • are the result of prior negotiations at the seller's permanent business location where the goods are sold regularly
  • are needed to meet an emergency. Suppose insects suddenly appear in your home, and you waive your right to cancel
  • are made as part of your request for the seller to do repairs or maintenance on your personal property (purchases made beyond the maintenance or repair request are covered)

Also exempt from the Cooling-Off Rule are sales that involve:

  • real estate, insurance, or securities
  • automobiles, vans, trucks, or other motor vehicles sold at temporary locations, provided the seller has at least one permanent place of business
  • arts or crafts sold at fairs or locations like shopping malls, civic centers, and schools

How to Cancel

Even where the rule does apply, you need to be careful about the timeliness and manner in which you cancel a sale. To do so, you must sign and date one copy of the cancellation form. Mail it to the address given for cancellation, making sure the envelope is post-marked before midnight of the third business day after the contract date. (Saturday is considered a business day; Sundays and federal holidays are not.)

Because proof of the mailing date and proof of receipt are important, consider sending the cancellation form by certified mail so you can get a return receipt. Or, consider hand delivering the cancellation notice before midnight of the third business day. Keep the other copy of the cancellation form for your records.

If the seller did not give cancellation forms, you can write your own cancellation letter. It must be post-marked within three business days of the sale. You do not have to give a reason for canceling your purchase. You have a right to change your mind.

So, What if I Cooled-Off and Canceled?

If you cancel your purchase, the seller has 10 days to:

  1. cancel and return any promissory note or other negotiable instrument you signed
  2. refund all your money and tell you whether any product you still have will be picked up; and
  3. return any trade-in

Within 20 days, the seller must either pick up the items left with you, or reimburse you for mailing expenses, if you agree to send back the items.

If you received any goods from the seller, you must make them available to the seller in as good condition as when you received them. If you do not make the items available to the seller - or if you agree to return the items but fail to - you remain obligated under the contract.

Law Can Be Stranger than Fiction

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