We all rush into purchases we later regret. Fortunately, certain legal protections, like the FTC's Cooling-Off Rule or individual states' lemon laws, allow you to void a recent purchase or service contract in qualifying circumstances. But your legal right to act on buyer's remorse is heavily dependent on where you made your purchase and why you regret it.

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. And then we can do one of two things:

  • Try to 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. And a lot of my inaction stems from the assumption that I have little legal protection as a consumer.

But I’ve recently changed my tune after learning more about buyer’s remorse law, which grants rights to your remorse, provided you act fast enough and know which purchases the laws apply to.

The Cooling-Off Rule

In certain situations, the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off 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 rule before you buy something under the assumption that the government has your back.

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.

Purchase location

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.

State considerations

Some states have supplemental laws that will cover you in the event of buyer’s remorse, and may take the Cooling-Off Rule even further. One example is Florida’s contractual buyer’s remorse rule pertaining to sales for future services.

Say you’re a Floridian, and you sign a contract with a local 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, provided you submit your cancellation notice 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 car laws

There are plenty of reasons you’d want to return a car, such as its price tag, discomfort with the sales tactics used at the dealership, or certain features or limitations you weren’t made aware of prior to your purchase. Unfortunately, the Cooling-Off Rule doesn’t cover cars, as I mentioned above.

When you sign a purchase agreement for a car, legal advantage generally shifts to the dealer. There are also a lot of details and people involved when buying a car, which only furthers the complexity of a return.

That said, you might nonetheless have some recourse if you experience buyer’s remorse with a recently-purchased vehicle. But it’s best to be aware of the following exit clauses before you take the wheels off the lot.

No-risk returns

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.

Lemon laws

A more realistic way to return a car is if it’s considered a ‘lemon,’ i.e., it’s dysfunctional and thus requires a lot of money to pay for repairs. Most states’ lemon laws apply only to new car purchases, but at least eights states also have lemon laws for used vehicles:

  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

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.

Unfortunately, there are some states that have little to no legal protections against 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 honoring this type of implied warranty. Some states/districts actually prohibit dealers from selling cars ‘as-is,’ in which case the UCC can be equally as effective as a lemon law, if not more.

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 rule requires the seller to abide by certain legal requirements, including but not limited to:

  • Posting a buyer’s guide that states whether the car is sold as-is or if it has a warranty
  • Identifying any major problems with the car at the time of purchase
  • Delivering all promises in writing

You can see the entire breakdown of this rule on the FTC website.

The Magnuson-Moss Act

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits dealers and manufacturers from claiming that your valid 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 (unless the maintenance or recycled parts specifically led to your car’s defect).

Return protection

Though using a credit card to purchase a car is ill-advised, credit cards do offer a number of advantages when used to make smaller purchases. And one of those advantages is return protection.

Basically, return protection is a feature that allows you to return a qualifying item, even if its merchant won’t take it back. In essence, it extends the return timeframe.

This is perfect for buyer’s remorse, because some credit card networks 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.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the four major U.S. credit card networks’ return protection policies.

American Express

Amex return protection gives you 90 days to return an item after its date of purchase, for items valued at less than $300 (up to $1,000 per year).

Discover

Discover is the only major U.S. credit card network that doesn’t offer return protection in any form, for any of its cards. That’s quite a bummer, particularly given that Discover’s former return protection terms were the most generous of any credit card network.

Mastercard

Mastercard’s return protection gives you 60 days to return an item after its date of purchase, for items valued at less than $250 (max of four claims permitted in a 12-month period).

Visa

Not all Visa card purchases are entitled to return protection. But purchases with a Visa Signature® card are eligible for 90 days of return protection up to $250 per item.

FAQs

What is buyer’s remorse?

Buyer’s remorse is a feeling of regret regarding a purchase you’ve made. It typically stems from a sense that you’ve paid too much for the item, that an alternative item might be more suitable for your needs, or that the item doesn’t function or perform as you’d anticipated.

What is the length of time for buyer’s remorse laws?

Per the FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule, you have until midnight of the third business day after the date of a qualifying transaction to submit a cancellation notice. Other state laws may provide longer windows of time for certain purchases.

Is there a 3-day right to cancel a car purchase?

Unfortunately, there is no 3-day right to cancel a car purchase, as the FTC’s Cooling-Off Rule does not apply to most auto sales. That said, depending on your reason for canceling your car purchase, you may be covered by other legal protections, like your state’s lemon laws.

Summary

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, you may have more remorse recourse than you think.

About the author

Chris Muller picture
Total Articles: 230
Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He’s also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016. You can connect with Chris on Twitter.