Almost universally, if you make a return, stores will refund you in the same way you paid — cash if you paid cash, a credit to the credit card you used, etc. Return payments follow the rules set by stores, credit card companies, and the government. While some independent retailers create their own refund policies, others are regulated and overseen by the Treasury Department and other official agencies. Below, we have the details of how and when you may get a refund in a different payment method, plus a list of retailers that give refunds in a method other than the one used to make the original purchase.
General Store Refund Policies & Payment Methods
If you’re returning an item to a brick-and-mortar store, you can expect certain criteria to influence how, or where, your money can be refunded. You’ll want to bring along the receipt (if you have it), your driver’s license or other government-issued identification, and the credit or debit card you used for your original purchase (if you used one). The two primary factors a retailer considers when refunding an item are:
- Whether you have your receipt
- Your original payment method
Returns Without a Receipt
If you’re returning an item without a receipt, most retailers will offer to compensate you with in-store credit or a gift card loaded with the amount of the refund. Additionally, without a receipt, the amount of the refund will usually reflect the current price of the item.
If you don’t have your receipt, you may be able to avoid being refunded in store credit if your payment was made with a credit or debit card, but only if you remember the card you used to make the purchase. While not all retailers will be willing to look up your purchase receipt through digital transaction records, you can request that they take this step, which will allow them to locate a record of your transaction and refund it appropriately based on your original payment method. (For details of receipt lookup policies at particular stores, see our articles on CVS, Walgreens, and AutoZone.)
If your purchase was made using a credit card, there are other ways to obtain a refund because these purchases are subject to additional federal and industry regulations. We cover this in more detail below under Refund Regulations for Credit Cards.
Your Original Method of Payment
Your original method of payment will be the next major factor in determining how you’ll receive your refund. Each payment type is treated differently. Whether your refund can be credited as a different form of payment will also depend, at least partly, on the policy of the individual retailer and can vary by store and state.
Cash is refunded as such unless the retailer’s policy requires it to refund the transaction as store credit. This practice is common with smaller retailers, local businesses, and boutiques when there’s no actual defect in the product being returned.
Debit Cards and Checks
Debit cards and checks are loosely lumped into the same payment category since both forms of payment are drawn from your bank account, but there are differences when you inquire about a refund. If you used a check or your debit card for a purchase, your refund will most likely be credited to the bank account connected to the card or check you used, though it may be refunded in cash, depending on the individual retailer’s policy.
Because debit transactions and checks are drawn from your bank account instead of a line of borrowed credit and usually processed electronically and recorded as electronic payment, you have a better chance of receiving a cash refund on these types of purchases.
Keep in mind that if you paid by check and it has not cleared the bank (in which case the funds have not yet been transferred to the retailer), you may not qualify for a refund until this has happened. If the purchase were refunded before the check has cleared, the retailer could easily be left holding a returned check and losing the money they refunded.
The final and most regulated refund category are purchases made with a credit card. These transactions are refunded back to the credit card used to make the original purchase. To prevent money laundering and the funding of terrorist organizations, the Patriot Act broadened the government’s power over financial institutions like credit card companies and, among other requirements, made it mandatory for banks, lenders, and credit associations to have anti-money laundering programs in place. These programs must be reported to and overseen by the Treasury Department. They include regulations that monitor and detect fraud, making it rare, if not unheard of (except in cases where an associate was negligent), for a retailer to refund a credit card purchase to another credit card, to a bank account, or in cash.
One exception to issuing the refund to the same card may occur when a refund is owed to a closed credit card. In these cases, the refund process will be determined based on whether the customer has another account with the same card issuer. If a card has been closed, but the customer has another active account with the same card issuer, the refund should process to the active account. If the card is closed and no active account is available, the refund may be issued to the closed account, at which point you would need to contact the credit card company to resolve the issue. The business may also be willing to issue the refund as a check or cash if you contact customer service and explain that your credit card account has been closed.
Refunding an Online Purchase
Online purchases are subject to different return policies including shipping, packaging, and possible re-stocking fees, but don’t expect an online purchase to be refunded in any form other than a credit to your original payment method. There are cases where retailers and non-profits especially have done so and found themselves the victims of fraud, having lost thousands of dollars in these transactions. The premise for this type of fraud is to use a stolen credit card to make an initial purchase and have the transaction refunded to a different card that is held by the scammer or as a check. To prevent this, online purchases, which are usually made using a debit or credit card, are refunded directly to the original method of payment.
You should also expect purchases made through the website of a brick-and-mortar store to be refunded in the same method when returned to the actual retail store. For instance, if you purchase a lamp from Walmart online and return it to the Walmart in your neighborhood with your pick-up receipt, it will still be subject to Walmart’s online refund policies and a credit will be processed back to the account you used to make the purchase.
Stores That May Issue Refunds in a Different Payment Method
Does a refund have to be on the same card? While researching this article, we contacted many retailers by email to inquire about their specific return policies. Those who issue refunds in a method other than that which was used for the initial purchase are included here, along with direct quotes of their policies, taken straight from their emails to us.
Walgreens: “Returns made within 30 days of purchase and with the purchase receipt will be returned in the original form of tender. Cash or ATM/Debit Card purchases can be refunded as cash, checks may be returned as cash only after a 10 business day waiting period until the check clears. However, if the store can verify that the check has cleared in less than 10 business days, the customer may receive an immediate cash refund. All other forms of payment, such as credit card or gift card, will be refunded to the original tender.”
The Home Depot: “If the purchase was made by check and it was not a large purchase, the refund could possibly be in the form of cash. Large purchases made by check would be refunded by a check that is mailed to you.”
Whole Foods: Whole Foods may refund debit card and check purchases as cash. “Stores can offer a Whole Foods Market merchandise return card (a one-time-use gift card) as a store credit, or refund the customer according to payment type by offering to credit the payment card or offer a cash refund. Products paid for with a credit card will be refunded to the card and not processed as a cash refund.”
While some retailers are willing to refund debit card and check purchases in cash after verifying that the initial payment has cleared, industry and federal regulations prohibit them from refunding credit card purchases by another method. Returns may also be refunded with store credit under some circumstances, such as when you return items without a receipt. Walgreens, Home Depot, and Whole Foods are among the retailers that will refund purchases to different payment methods.