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Post-holiday returns rules get more complicated

If Christmas is about giving, the day after is more about -- returning!

The National Retail Federation (NRF) says nearly 40 percent of recipients will return holiday gifts this year.

Such returns are expected to top $46 billion.

But as "Early Show" financial contributor Carmen Wong Ulrich pointed out Monday, many retailers are instituting new polices that make it tougher for returners.

Still, there are ways to make the experience hassle-free, and Wong went through a list you'll want to keep.

According to the NRF, 83 percent of retailers are keeping their polices on returns intact, but 13 percent of them are tightening the rules.

Wong says policies are often very complicated now, with certain policies applying to certain types of products within one store, so it's up to you to be clear on the ins and outs of returns, even with retailers you've frequented for years.

To make returning things easier, keep these tips in mind:

Bring gift receipts. Walmart and Target, for instance, accept only limited returns without one.

Don't assume the return policy applies to sales items. Some merchants consider sales items to be a final sale. If you are the gift-recipient, do not assume you have the right to return or exchange an unwanted present. Like the shopper, you are bound by the merchant's return policy.

Don't expect cash back. In almost every case, stores require a receipt or some other evidence that the item was actually purchased at a particular store. If you don't have evidence of purchase and you're fortunate, you may receive a refund, but you may not receive the full amount of the purchase price.

Be aware that defective products fall under different warranty and customer service rules regarding returns and replacement. Be nice and clear and return an item ASAP if it's defective.

When all else fails, re-gift and/or donate to charity. If it's an expensive item, consider putting it up for sale on eBay.

And remember: Laws regarding returns vary from state-to-state.

For specifics on rules to watch for at various chains, click on the video above.