Let’s face it: We’re not all financial gurus. Many of us, especially us Gen Xers, were handed credit cards before we were even able to drink, before most of us even had cars. We were wooed by cards with customizable logos and ID pictures, and were taught quickly to sink or swim in the sea of financial freedom. We also had our parents doing most of our bidding, taking care of our bills and needs, never really having to, as we call it today, ‘adult’.

Today, buying’s so much easier. We buy from our tablets, our phones, sometimes with even less than a click. And with marketplaces set up on many sites (think Amazon), we’re not always sure from whom we’re buying. We’re not always sure that if there’s a problem with our merchandise, that we’ll be able to return it. Which leaves a lot of room to get burned.

Since businesses are free to set their own policies, and it’s up to US to decide whether we want to partake (something we often forget), it’s our due diligence to learn everything we can about the businesses we patronize. Return and refund policies, and the little loopholes thereof with the potential to break us, are of particular importance, so I’ve compiled a short list of avoidable mistakes.

Subscription Services

There are so many subscription plans out there today – from meal boxes, to entertainment boxes, to memberships to gyms and social networking websites. We see the ads flashing in our face, “Get XX free for one month!” Sometimes we want to try something so bad, we click yes and pay for it later.

We become giddy for the Spin, the Zumba, the hot yoga, but how many of us really pore through the agreements? What if you quit? Move? Can you cancel that subscription? Many companies will, as they don’t want to lose your business (or risk being trashed on social media), but sometimes situations get sticky.

I would encourage you to ask questions. This applies to gyms, yoga, any type of fitness classes, and lessons of any kind. If you find yourself, after learning the terms, saying, “We can make it work,” stop. Chances are excellent you can find another business whose price, timings, and/or terms will work better for you. A low-risk gym investment, for example, is Planet Fitness, which will only run you $10 per month, and you can cancel anytime with no penalties.

Concerts

Concert tickets are a bear as well. With sites that aid in resale like StubHub and Ticketmaster, if you can’t make it, there’s a good chance you can find someone who can. Always decline ticket insurance. With ticket insurance companies, you can basically only have a ticket refunded if you’re hospitalized, not if your sitter doesn’t show up, your plans fall through, or your car breaks down. They want documentation from your doctor as well. And that, my friends, is way too much information to give a ticket insurance company.

Another warning about tickets – I know it’s great to be on the floor instead of the nosebleeds to see your favorite artists, but be aware of the price of the ticket(s) you buy. Should you need to sell them, prices ranging up to $1000 may be too rich for most people’s blood, and you may be stuck, if unable to go, having to sell your ticket for much less than face value, or losing the money altogether. And that’s not a good time.

Contracts

Let’s say you decide you want in on the new artist’s collaborative, or a booth at the local consignment shop. You talk with the owner and decide it’s a good idea. You two shake hands, and before you know it, you’ve booked yourself there for two months. Let’s also say that once you get home, your boss calls to tell you you’ll be out of town for the next three weeks on business, and there’s no way you’ll be able to participate in the activity. Can you cancel? Did you even discuss it? What do you do now?

Never agree to anything without a contract. If your agreement is long-term, even several months’, have the merchant provide a sheet with policies and expectations on it, and make sure both parties sign and agree to the terms. There’s nothing worse than signing a contract, having a problem, and then finding there’s no remedy. And don’t take people’s word, either. One employee may give you certain information, and another will give you conflicting information, and the stated policy is completely different. Be cautious.

Hotels

A room at posh hotel might be a great catch. But sometimes there are strings. What’s the checkout time? Where is my room? Is there a restaurant? There’s nothing worse than waking up in a hotel and having no breakfast available. Some hotels have neither restaurants nor room service. Don’t be swayed by the marble tub – check the practicalities as well. Also, check (double check, and triple check) the cancellation policy. Some rates cannot be cancelled, some give 30 days, some 20, some three, and some let you cancel right up until 6pm the same evening. I would only opt for a nonrefundable rate if you’re booking within two weeks of travel. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your deposit.

Credit Cards

If you ever purchase at a store with a history of identity theft, or you’re just plain suspicious of the seller (it happens!), use a credit card that fights for its cardholders. I’ve had to dispute fraudulent charges a few times, and I’ve found that American Express is wonderful at dealing with disputes. They will immediately reverse the charge and begin working for you right away. They keep you apprised of the situation and let you know when it’s been resolved. Check your favorite credit card agreement for dispute policies.

Insurance

Most insurance companies will snuggle up to you, give you a hot toddy and a blanket, and tell you they’re by your side, night and day. And some are. Until you file a claim. One would reasonably assume that paying into an insurance policy would allow one to file claims as necessary, to cover their homes, their cars, and their recreational vehicles. Before you take the lowest-priced quote, speak to a few people who have been with that company for a while. Better yet, speak to a few people who have filed claims. There are companies that, though they offer amazing rates, will be quick to drop you after they’ve paid off a claim, leaving you to either beg for your policy back, or start searching all over again.

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