Can I return unwanted Christmas gifts?
Your Questions Answered
Q I got a couple of unwanted presents at Christmas - some I already have and some I just don't like. Can I return them? Ian, Glasthule, Co Dublin
If you are returning something simply because you don't want it, you don't have an automatic right to return it and it depends on the shop's returns policy. Shops can set their own policies and are not legally required to display their returns policy, even though many will display them in-store or on your receipt.
However, many established retailers have very customer-friendly policies around returns, especially around Christmas time. They may, for example, have extended time frames for returning unwanted goods.
However, shops can sometimes change their returns policy during the sales so check with the shop about its individual policy. For example, some may not give you a refund but will only exchange or give you a credit note or voucher. If you are returning something and it's now on sale at a lower price, the shop may only give you a refund of the sale price - that's if is willing to give a refund at all. As it is an unwanted gift, the shop is under no obligation to accept it, and if it is on sale when you return it, the shop can just give you the sale price.
If something is faulty, however, you would be entitled to a full refund of the original price paid - even if the item was on sale when you returned it and the shop was offering you a refund.
If you are returning an unwanted gift, the shop can ask for proof of purchase, so if you don't have a gift receipt, you may need to ask the person who bought it to give you the receipt. As part of its policy, a shop may insist on you having a till receipt when returning unwanted goods. However, if the shop only insists on a proof of purchase, this doesn't have to be a receipt - it can also be a copy of a debit or credit card bill.
Can I change a ripped suite?
Q I spent a fortune in the Christmas sales on a new suite for my sitting room. When it was delivered, I noticed that one of the cushions had a tear. Can I return it for a replacement - even if I bought it in the sales? Sarah, Inchicore, Co Dublin
Your consumer rights don't change in a sale. If something you bought on sale turns out to be faulty, your consumer rights are the same as at any other time of the year. You are still entitled to a repair, a replacement of the same item, or a refund of the price you paid for the item.
You will, however, need proof of purchase such as a receipt to show the price you paid.
You should contact the retailer as soon as possible and send or show them photos of the fault with the product. Explain that under consumer law, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund when goods are faulty. If you are unhappy with the response the retailer offers you, you should make a formal complaint to it in writing.
If you can't resolve the situation with the retailer, another option is to take a case to the Small Claims Court. You can use the process for claims up to €2,000 and there is a non-refundable application fee of €25. This is a relatively inexpensive and easy way for consumers to resolve some types of dispute without having to use a solicitor.
Top-up loan for extension
Q My husband and I are planning on extending our house this year. We are looking at all the ways we could finance it, including topping up our mortgage. What are the pros and cons of doing this? Joanne, Clonakilty, Co Cork
Firstly, you could remortgage if you have some equity in your home. The extra amount you can borrow depends on how much your home is worth as well as on your ability to repay the new, larger mortgage. Most lenders will extend your mortgage up to about 80pc of the current value of your property, provided they are satisfied that you can afford the increased repayments and you have not had any problems keeping up with your repayments in the past.
If you decide to increase your mortgage, you will usually have to pay for a valuation and legal fees. You may also have to pay a fee if you are breaking an existing fixed-rate mortgage - and you could face extra mortgage protection insurance to cover the new mortgage amount.
Some providers will also charge you an administration fee for any changes to the original terms of your mortgage so you should check this with your provider first and try to negotiate on the fee. Apart from fees and legal costs, you will also pay more interest if you increase your mortgage. You also face an increased risk of negative equity if house prices fall in the future.
You won't be able to remortgage if the bank you took out your original mortgage with is no longer doing business in Ireland - some consumers are in this situation. Another option is to get a personal loan. Some banks will offer home-improvement loans up to €75,000. However the interest payable on these can be much higher than mortgage rates. If you apply for a loan, the lender will look at your ability to afford the loan repayments, your savings record, your ongoing financial commitments (such as other loan repayments) and your credit history. Your lender may also want to see quotes for the work you are getting done on your house.
New Year budgeting
Q I have made a New Year's resolution to avoid using my credit card for everyday expenses. Last year, I overspent on my credit card. I am now slowly paying off the balance which has left me with less money every month - and I'm worried that I'll reach for my credit card again. How can I manage to pay off my balance and live within my budget? Sean, Listowel, Co Kerry
It is very easy to overspend on your credit card, but also very expensive - the interest rate charged on credit card balances currently ranges from 13pc to 23pc. While it is tempting to simply repay the minimum amount each month, by doing so you are being charged a high rate of interest on the outstanding balance and increasing the amount of time to clear the debt. So, work out how much you can afford to pay each month so you can reduce the outstanding balance as quickly as possible.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your balance. A couple of credit card providers charge no interest on balance transfers for a period of time so it might be worth checking if you can switch to a card with a zero or lower rate of interest. If you choose this option, aim to pay off as much as you can before the low rate offer runs out and try to avoid using the card.
If you don't want to switch, ask your credit card company if it can reduce the rate of interest you are currently paying. Make sure you aren't adding to the existing balance by continuing to spend on your card. You can use your debit card for most things, and keep your credit card in a secure place rather than bringing it out with you.
Do up a monthly budget so you have enough money to manage each month. To help you, use the budgeting calculator on ccpc.ie. Before you start, work out your regular expenses by looking through previous bank statements or recent bills. Then fill in the calculator and see where you stand. If your spending is less than your income, then you have some extra money to pay off your credit card, to save or to spend. But don't stop there. As you now have an idea of where your money is going, you might spot some expenses which you can reduce or get rid of.
Sunday Indo Business