(ThinkStock Photos)Real talk: Giving isn't always better than receiving. That's especially true when you spend more than you expected. Despite the rash of holiday discounts, hidden fees and fine print policies can end up adding to your expenses without you even knowing it. But in the frenzy of gift-gathering, who wants to harp on the details? That's what Consumer Reports is for. This week, the retail watchdog released its list of companies that are "naughty or nice" when it comes to holiday shopping. Their round-up offers insight into some of the secret costs of being Santa-like. Hint: they're not exactly nice.
1. Restocking fees. Several electronic stores try to offset or reduce the cost of exchanges by adding hidden deductions on returns. Consumer Reports singles out CompUSA for charging up to 25 percent of the purchasing price on any products "the retailer decides doesn't meet its criteria." What that means is if you purchase a laptop for $700, the store may deduct $175 if your recipient tries to return it. Instead, check out the goods at J&R where the retailer will match or beat another retailer's lower price.2. Return caveats. Several retailers claim they accept returns but keep an eye out for exceptions. At Buy.com, TV sets over 27 inches don't make the cut and Best Buy's grace period for computers, camcorders, moniters and digital cameras lasts only 14 days, according to Reports. On the flip-side, Costco's got a cushy 90 day return period and Walmart's return policy also gets a grade A. Get a cash refund for purchases under $25 or a gift card for higher priced items, without worrying about a cutoff date.
3. Mail-in rebate risks. Some products may seem majorly marked down, but that's only after a little extra work. Reports warns that SanDisk, is a regular culprit in the snail mail sale trick, offering discounts on memory cards issued as gift cards.
4. Shipping fees by cost. Macy's is one of several retailers still employing a heavy shipping fee. The store calculates the cost based on the dollar amount of the order, not the weight of the package. So purchases over $300 can come with an added fee of up to $24 for standard delivery. For the best shipping policies on clothing and accessories, Consumer Reports recommends Zappos.com (free shipping, free returns plus prepaid label).
5. Contract binds. Getting someone a DirecTV subscription can backfire if your recipient doesn't read the fine print. The company's automatic extension plan adds an additional 24 months of service if new equipment is added to the product. Plus, canceling the service comes with an early termination fee. Verizon Wireless also has an early termination fee for their PDAs that runs as high as $350, if customers break the contract after 30 days. Suddenly, you really shouldn't have.