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'Tis the season for giving (and returning)

Got a tie or a scented candle that just doesn't work for you? Jean Chatzky offers some advice on how to handle those unwanted gifts.

The presents have been opened, the gift wrap burned in the fireplace (or, if you've got more Martha in your genes than I do, neatly folded and saved for next year), and the Christmas candy consumed. Now all that's left are the returns.

If you're like most gift recipients, you got at least something under the tree, or in one of your Hanukkah boxes, that isn't exactly your taste. The National Retail Federation estimates that this year 4 to 6 percent of gifts will be taken back. The key, of course, is to make it as easy as possible. 

According to a new survey commissioned by eBay, nearly 60 percent of Americans receive unwanted gifts during the holidays, and more than half admit to re-gifting — as in, giving them to someone else. The survey also found that the top three gifts most likely to be regifted are knick-knacks (50 percent), pampering products (36 percent), and fruitcake. Lastly, nearly half (49 percent) of people consider re-gifting to be socially acceptable.

So, what should you do with unwanted gifts?

Regift to someone who will appreciate it more
Some say this is bad etiquette, but practically speaking, if someone else you know has a better use for an unwanted gift, then you might as well make the most of the gift and give it to someone who will appreciate it. Just be sure you're not regifting it back to the person who gave it to you.

Return to the store
This year, 49 percent of holiday givers said they were enclosing gift receipts with their purchases. Bring those little slips of paper with you when you return, says Federation CEO Tracy Mullin, and you're assured of being credited the full amount spent on the item. Without it, you may have to settle for the post-holiday, marked-down price. 

How to smooth the process?

  • Don't delayEven if you have a receipt you'll want to get back to the store within 14 days if at all possible. That's because some stores have limits of two weeks to a month, or even earlier, on popular items. (At Best Buy, for example, most merchandise can be returned anytime prior to January 24, but projectors, cameras, radar detectors and digital cameras must be returned by January 8.) Another reason not to hesitate? If you're thinking of exchanging rather than just returning, you'll want to cash in on the seasonal sales. Avoid the crowds by going on a weekday morning right after the stores open. That's a better bet than lunch hour or after work.
  • Ask for a receiptIf you weren't fortunate enough to get a gift receipt in your holiday wrapper, you might want to consider asking Aunt Lucy if she still has hers. I know — it's uncomfortable — but she'd probably rather you get what she paid for it than just 30 or 50 percent of her hard-earned dollars. If you can't go that far, at least be sure you know where she purchased it. You don't want to be in the embarrassing situation of bellying up to the counter only to realize you're in the wrong store.
  • Leave tags onFactory seals are particularly crucial where electronics, software and CDs are concerned. Tags are important when you're talking about the sort of clothing you might be inclined to wear to, say, a New Year's Eve party, then return (which believe it or not, some unscrupulous shoppers do). If you do — in the glee of the moment — remove the wrappers or tags without thinking about it, make sure you bring all of them back when you attempt to return the item. Then smile sweetly as you make your case.
  • Make the return in the retail store Most Web sites will allow you to return merchandise to their retail stores. (Victoria's Secret and American Apparel are notable exceptions.) Some, like Land's End, which will allow returns at Sears, will even let you return merchandise to stores with which they're affiliated. Returning to the stores will save you postage — which is generally a cost you'll have to incur. But if you're looking to exchange, you may find a better selection of merchandise on the Internet than in a single retail outpost.

Sell online
With the continual success of auction sites like EBay, Craig's List, Yahoo Auction and the soon to be launched Google Auction site, selling items online is another option you have this holiday season. Most sites take a fee for the sale once the item is sold. One person's trash is definitely someone else's treasure.

And if you don't have a computer or the time to list and manage a sale on eBay, you can always go to sites like , where you can send a photo via your cell phone to them, and they will do all the work for you and make you money on your unwanted item.

Donate
For those that like what you actually got, but now have to get rid of the item it replaced. I have a suggestion: Give the used one away. From formal clothing (think prom dresses) to computers, cell phones and electronics, there are tons of charities willing to take your stuff, just check out .

This is also great for gifts you don't want, if you don't feel right returning or selling the item. Plus, you can get a donation receipt for tax purposes.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today" show and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including 2004's "Pay it Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio). To find out more, visit her Web site, .