Electronics can often break, disappear, or erupt into fireballs. Many consumers don’t get their money back. Fortunately, you can get reimbursed for all manner of mishaps — even for out-of-warranty devices. However, refunds may require a credit card, documentation, and persistence.
Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario: you purchased a device, and it breaks. What should you do? Your course of action depends on when you bought the device, whether you used a credit card, and what kind of credit card you own. Some cards can get even smashed or stolen items refunded. On top of that, almost all credit cards offer extended warranties that can get your money back well after the warranty ends.
When Did the Device Break or Go Missing?
- Within 30 days of purchase? Most retailers take returns if the device breaks within 30 days (sometimes less).
- Between 31 and 90 days after purchase on a credit card? Those with lost, broken, or stolen devices may need to rely on a credit card company.
- Within the warranty period? If the device breaks inside of the manufacturer’s warranty period, return it to the manufacturer.
- The device broke a year after the warranty ended? File a claim with your credit card company.
Did the Device Fail Within 30 Days?
If your device fails within 30 days, return the device to the retailer. Most retailers offer no-hassle returns, provided the customer brings the product back within the return period. The return period differs depending on the retailer.
Here are a few electronics dealers and their policies:
- Newegg’s return policy depends on the component. Computer motherboards aren’t returnable, for example. The standard return period is 30 days.
- Amazon’s return policy is a standard 30 days.
- eBay’s unofficial return policy is 30 days, although most fall somewhere around 14 days.
- Best Buy’s standard return policy offers a 15-day window, although they also handle warranty returns.
- Apple’s return policy is 14 days.
Even worst-case scenarios are salvageable. If the seller refuses to provide a refund on defective merchandise, you can contact your credit card issuer and initiate a credit card chargeback. A chargeback forcibly refunds money from the fraudulent seller to the buyer.
However, I caution against using chargebacks as the first line of defense against scams. It’s better used as a last resort. Credit card companies take chargebacks very seriously, and abuse can lead to legal trouble.
However, if the device gets stolen or broken through misuse, the return period gets invalidated. Fortunately, if you used a particular type of credit card, there’s an additional degree of protection called purchase protection, which covers up to 90 days after the sale.
The Device Breaks or Is Lost Within 90 Days
The manufacturer’s warranty only covers defective devices — usually within a year from the day of purchase. This protection doesn’t extend to accidental damage or theft. Fortunately, a few credit cards include an insurance policy known as Purchase Protection or Purchase Assurance. The exact terminology depends on the credit group. Purchase protection gets buyers their money back in case of accident, theft, or acts of God.
There are a lot of variations in how claims get processed but, in general, you need the following documentation:
- Original receipt (electronic copies also work);
- Original warranty card or documentation (sometimes required);
- The credit card used to make the purchase;
- Account statement showing the purchase;
- And a police report, if stolen.
I tested Chase’s Purchase Protection, and the process is identical to filing an insurance claim. Card holders need to call their card provider and speak with its benefits division. The card holder must then request to activate Purchase Protection.
At this point, filing a claim can be done either electronically or via snail mail. During this process, a claims inspector must validate your paperwork and documentation, which can take months. If successful, the credit company remits all, or part, of the money.
Here’s the email that I received after filing the claim via telephone:
I just printed and filled out the requisite paperwork, attached it to the form included with the email, and mailed it out.
The Device Breaks Within the Warranty Period
If the gadget breaks within the manufacturer’s warranty period, first contact the manufacturer. (We recommend using GetHuman.) However, sometimes the manufacturer doesn’t answer emails or calls. In this case, two courses of action can help get your money back: invoke the extended warranty or escalate the conflict.
Use Your Credit Card’s Extended Warranty
Credit companies — almost universally — bundle extended warranties with their cards. A credit card company’s extended warranty adds one to two years to the original manufacturer’s warranty. Replacement policies vary by credit group. For example, Cardhub’s analysis indicates that American Express provides — by a large margin — the best extended warranty service out of the four credit groups.
You need the following documentation to invoke the card’s extended warranty:
- Original receipt (electronic copies aren’t accepted);
- Original warranty card or documentation;
- The credit card used to make the purchase;
- Account statement showing the purchase.
The terms of the extended warranty vary by individual credit groups. For example, Visa Signature cards (but not all Visa cards) extend the warranty by a whopping two years. Both CardHub and Nerdwallet, on the other hand, regard American Express as the overall best credit group for extended warranties.
Escalate the Conflict
When a device breaks within the warranty period — and you aren’t responsible — contact the manufacturer. Unfortunately, that means dealing with customer service. Again, we recommend using the website GetHuman.
Returning a defective device requires a return merchandise authorization (RMA). Getting an RMA requires some patience, for several reasons. First, dealing with customer support may entail escalation. If customer support cannot equitably resolve your case, you must speak with a higher support tier. For example, if a technician concludes that your laptop works fine, you must ask to speak with a supervisor. If the supervisor cannot resolve the issue, you must speak to the supervisor’s superior.
Unfortunately, delinquent manufacturers won’t honor warranties. If you didn’t use a credit card to purchase the device, you might need to complain through social media. Here’s an example of a complaint lodged on Twitter:
The battery on my phone is being super weird. Was just charged to 100%, two minutes later it’s at 94% @SamsungMobileUS
— Kini (@kinilei1) September 28, 2016
Samsung responded immediately:
— Samsung Support USA (@SamsungSupport) September 28, 2016
As you can see, social media gets results, and it gets them fast. Unfortunately, if your device fails outside the warranty period, contacting customer service may not help.
The Device Fails After Two Years
If the device fails outside of the warranty, your options narrow. While a credit card’s extended warranty can run up to two years past the manufacturer’s warranty, in most cases, two years spells the end of a potential refund. My advice? Sell broken devices on eBay for parts. I’ve done it several times and always receive better returns than on websites such as Gazelle.
What’s the Moral of the Story?
I strongly recommend that consumers use a credit card to purchase high-value electronics. While you might not care if a $5 set of earplugs break, a $700 laptop purchase requires an extra degree of caution. On top of that, make certain to retain all paperwork, including receipts and warranty cards — and keep them in one place. You may want to scan these documents to keep them on hand.
Has anyone ever used a credit card’s extended warranty? Please let us know in the comments.