We’ve all made dumb purchases. It just happens. We’re at the store, in the moment, and something grabs our attention.
So we buy it. But then what? We get home and realize what a waste of money it was. So we can do one of two things:
- Return it
- Keep it, thinking we’ll later decide we actually want it
I can’t speak for you, but I usually do the latter. I hate to say it, but I’m often just too lazy to return something, or I open the packaging before I decide I don’t want it. It’s bad.
But I’ve recently changed my tune. I’ve learned more about buyer’s remorse laws. Yes, there are laws that can actually protect us against something as silly as buyer’s remorse.
Now, these laws won’t do anything about the never-opened Amazon packages gathering dust in your hall closet. (Your credit card company might, though.)
Buyer’s remorse laws can get you out of other shopping-related predicaments—if you act fast enough.
The Cooling-Off Rule
The Federal Trade Commission enacted something called the Cooling-Off Rule. In certain situations, the rule can protect you against buyer’s remorse and allow you to back out of a sale or sales contract. But it’s important to know the rules before you buy something thinking you can take advantage of it.
The rule is entirely governed by the FTC, so they decide what types of purchases qualify for the rule, what you can do in the event you experience buyer’s remorse, and where it’s covered.
Where the purchase has to take place
If you make a purchase at a seller’s permanent or primary place of business, your purchase won’t be covered under the Cooling-Off Rule. The law was originally written to cover purchases made through door-to-door sales. You’re probably thinking that nobody buys things from door-to-door salesmen anymore (and do they even exist?), but the good news is you’re covered beyond just purchases you make at your home.
As long as you don’t buy something at the seller’s primary place of business, your purchase might qualify for coverage. So this could mean making a purchase at a trade show, your work, a conference, in your dorm, at a street fair… you get the idea.
Once you determine if the item or service you purchased qualifies, you have three days from the time of purchase to change your mind and back out of the sale (and get your money back). You’ll have to formally cancel the sale in writing and it technically has to be postmarked by midnight of that third day. Unless you handle your own postage, you’d be subject to an earlier time, like when your local post office closes.
Know that there are quite a few restrictions that outline items not covered. Some of those include purchases made online or major purchases like a car. (See the section on cars below). Be sure to check out the full list of criteria to be covered by the Cooling-Off Rule, as well as the process to get your money back.
Some states have supplemental laws that will cover you in the event of buyer’s remorse, and take the Cooling-Off Rule even further. One example is Florida’s contractual buyer’s remorse rule.
In Florida, say you sign a contract with a landscaper to pull weeds and plant flowers every month. There’s a state law that says you can use the Cooling-Off Rule in this situation, giving you three days to back out of the contract with the landscaper.
Another example is in Massachusetts, where you’re legally allowed to back out of a gym membership contract you signed within three days—but you have to deliver the news in person in addition to having it in writing.
Laws like these are the exception, not the rule, so be sure to thoroughly research your state’s specific laws and speak with an attorney if you’re still unsure.
Buyer’s remorse on a car
Buying a car is a big deal. It’s an emotional purchase. Many times, we’re pressured into buying something that we don’t really want.
There are plenty of reasons you’d want to return a car, such as the cost, the salesperson, or certain features or limitations you weren’t made aware of. Unfortunately, the Cooling-Off Rule doesn’t cover cars, as I mentioned above.
When you sign a purchase agreement for a car, you lose all protection. It goes over tp the dealer, who now has the law on their side. There are also a lot of details and people involved when buying a car—which only furthers the complexity of a return.
There is hope, though, but you need to know this information in advance and be proactive.
Some dealers are so confident in their cars and salespeople that they’ll offer a no-risk return. Others will offer it if they’re desperate enough for your business. I’d say the latter is more common.
To get a no-risk return included in your purchase agreement, you have to be confident and willing to walk away from the sale at any moment. Much like negotiating the price of the car, most dealers won’t want to budge on giving you a “free trial.”
My advice is to first negotiate the cost of the vehicle. Once that’s agreed upon, tell the salesperson you’re still unsure and need more time to think about it (even if you’re sure you want the car). Be willing to walk away if they tell you to take your time. Odds are they won’t, though.
Tell the salesperson that in order for you to buy the car, you need some assurance since you’re not entirely confident it’s the car you want (again, even though you are entirely confident). If you put enough pressure on them, they may be able to “talk to their manager” and allow you something like a three-day, no-risk return.
In the event you are able to get this, good for you. It’s not common. They’ll probably put restrictions in place, such as mileage you can drive in that time period. And know that if you decide to return the car, they’ll most likely charge you a restocking fee.
A more realistic way to return a car is if it’s considered a ‘lemon’. This is most common with used cars that are considered unreliable and thus require a lot of money in repairs. These laws cover new cars as well, but you don’t see new cars being lemons as often.
Currently only six states have lemon laws for used cars:
- New Jersey
- New York
- New Mexico
These states provide a type of warranty that protects you in case your car is a dud. If you end up buying a used car with a lot of issues, the dealer will be given an opportunity to repair the car before replacing it or returning your money.
While other states may not have a true lemon law, many of them have some type of buyer’s rights that require either minimum standards for the sale of a used car or that the car comes with some type of warranty. Check out this website to see lemon laws or related car-buying protections your state offers.
What to do if your state doesn’t have a lemon law or any other car-buying protection?
There are some states that have little to no rules about buying and ending up with a junker. But fear not, there are more avenues you can take to protect yourself.
Uniform Commercial Code (UCC)
According to the Uniform Commercial code, there’s an ‘implied warranty’ for any used car you purchase that states the car is suitable for transport. The problem is, many dealers will sell the car ‘as-is’, which allows them to get out of supporting this type of implied warranty. Some states actually prohibit dealers from selling cars ‘as-is’:
- West Virginia
- District of Columbia
In these states the UCC can be equally as effective as a lemon law, if not more.
The FTC used car rule
The FTC says that anyone selling more than five used vehicles in a 12 month period has to comply with the used car rule. This means the seller has to post a buyer’s guide that will tell you things like whether the car is sold as-is or if it has a warranty, major problems with the car, and that you should get all promises in writing, just to name a few.
You can see the entire breakdown of this rule on the FTC website.
The Magnuson-Moss Act
According to the FTC, “[the] Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is the federal law that governs consumer product warranties.” The law prohibits dealers and manufacturers from claiming that your warranty is void. It also makes it illegal to deny you coverage under your warranty because someone (other than the dealer) did maintenance on your car, or because you used recycled parts. So while it may not protect you from buyer’s remorse, it may protect you if you get a junk car.
For everything else, there’s return protection
One of the biggest benefits to using a credit card is return protection. Basically, return protection is a feature offered on most credit cards (except Visa cards, which only offers it on their Signature cards) that allows you to return an item, within a certain dollar amount, if the store won’t take it back. In essence, it extends the return timeframe.
This is perfect for buyer’s remorse because most credit card companies don’t even mind if you open the item or use it, as long as you keep the packaging and you don’t purposely destroy it. There are different guidelines depending on which card you have, so be sure to check it out though.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s offered:
American Express also offers a great return protection. Amex return protection gives you 90 days from the date of purchase, and up to $300 for a returned item (up to $1,000 per year).
MasterCard’s return protection gives you four claims per year (or 12 month period) and up to $250 per return.
Be sure to check out our guide on credit cards so you can be sure you’re getting the best protection for buyer’s remorse on most things you’ll buy.
Buyer’s remorse is real. We all face it. We all make impulse purchases. The key is to know what your rights are and what you can return (and when). From the FTC to state laws to your own credit card company, it’s possible to save yourself from your own stupidity.