Why Do Store Refunds Take So Long

Have you ever noticed that money seems to fly off your card instantly when you make a purchase but can take weeks to go back onto your card during a return? I know I’ve questioned this more than once. So what gives? Why do store refunds take so long? 

The average refund takes around 7 to 10 business days because the merchant and your financial institution must approve the return. Additionally, some stores need to have the item back in their possession before issuing a refund, and shipping can delay the process.

Join us as we learn about store returns, things that can delay the return process, and what you can do if your refund takes longer than expected.

What Is a Store Refund?

Store refunds occur when customers bring previously purchased items back to the store to return them to get their money back. Stores don’t have to allow refunds, but they usually have to make their return policy available to their customers.

Most stores do allow some form of returns. However, the stipulations surrounding a return can vary significantly. For example, some retailers don’t allow returns on electronic items, and others won’t return an item unless the customer can prove it was defective.

Refunds differ from other returns, such as exchanges, because the money is issued back to the customer in some manner.

What Type of Refunds Do Stores Offer (And How Long Do They Take)?

There are several types of refunds offered by merchants all over the world. The most common are:

  • Cash refunds
  • Card refunds
  • In-store credit

Refund timeframes depend on where you bought an item, the merchant’s refund policy, the type of refund you receive, and how you paid for the original purchase.

You can find a brief explanation of how each refund works and the average timeline for that type of return in the table below. All explanations assume a store allows returns.

Refund TypeHow It WorksAverage Timeline
Cash RefundIf you buy an item with cash (and the retailer allows returns), you can return it to the store and get your money back through a cash reimbursement. This is also sometimes done if you used a card but spent below a certain amount. Stores typically ask customers to provide proof of purchase, such as a receipt, and to bring the item back within a certain number of days.Cash is received upon approval instantly.
Card RefundIf you want to return an item you purchased with a credit or debit card, you’ll have to wait for the refund to go back on your card. The money is returned to the card you made the purchase with. Some stores might approve cash refunds on debit card purchases if the customer spent below a certain amount (usually around $20 or less).Card refunds typically take between 7 and 10 business days but can take longer, depending on the store’s return policy.
In-store CreditStores may give refunds in the form of in-store credit by issuing gift cards, adding credit to users’ online accounts, or exchanging a product for one of equal or lesser value. This is typically done in small shops where returns could eat into profit margins or when a customer cannot provide proof that they purchased the item from that merchant.Credit is usually issued immediately if the return is done in a physical location. Otherwise, it can take between 24 to 48 hours to receive credit for an online return.
Common types of store refunds and how long they take. Please remember that some vendors might have specific store policies that alter the timeline of the refund process.

7 Things That Can Delay a Store Refund

Several things can delay a store refund, the most common of which include:

  1. The method by which you return an item
  2. A stores return policy
  3. Shipping delays
  4. A company’s motivation to provide a return
  5. The number of returns being processed by a company at the time of your request
  6. Delayed authorization from the company or your financial institution
  7. Having to appeal a previously denied refund

Although all the above things can delay a refund, authorization from financial institutions is one of the biggest reasons for refund delays.

Most people don’t realize that the money doesn’t come off instantly when you swipe your card. It might look like it does because your bank puts a hold on the funds to make it easier for you to keep track of your spending, but it’s usually pending in the background.

In reality, it can take days for the money to leave your account and even longer for the retailer to receive the funds in their account. 

If you request a refund within a day or two, the merchant might have to wait for the original transaction to clear before greenlighting a refund. Then, once the refund is approved, the process has to happen again, but in reverse.

6 Ways To Speed up the Return Process

Like most people, you don’t want to wait months for a refund. Fortunately, there are things you can do to speed up the return process.

  1. Stick with cash purchases
  2. Return items in-store whenever possible
  3. Shop with reputable companies
  4. Buy from local stores
  5. Take advantage of member benefits
  6. Ask for store-credit

Shopping online limits the type of refunds you can get. If you shop locally and use cash, you’ll likely be able to return the item quickly and get a cash refund.

If you insist on shopping online, try to stick with retailers that have stores in your area. Most of the time, big chain retailers will allow you to return online purchases in a local store, giving you more freedom in handling a return.

Another great way to speed up a refund is by asking for store credit. Stores are often more willing to provide credit because they know they aren’t losing out on the refunded money.

Finally, if a store requires you to ship the item back before they can approve a refund, you can speed the process up by choosing faster shipping. Some stores even offer free shipping to reward members, which is handy if you shop at the retailer frequently.


There are multiple ways a store might refund your purchase, and each method takes a different amount of time. Cash refunds are usually the fastest because they often occur in the store. Credit is also typically issued quickly. You can receive credit instantly in-store or online within 1 to 2 business days. Credit and debit returns take the longest because they require financial institutions to authorize money exchanges, and you might have to return the item before the process can even begin. 

Now that you know why store refunds take so long, you can take steps to speed up the process. Read each store’s refund policy closely and plan accordingly before making large purchases.

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