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By Adam Hardy
January 3, 2022
Flying paper planes with dollar banknotes
Lixia Guo / Money; Getty Images

Would you look at that: 2022 already.

Before we get started with the first in this year’s monthly to-do list, let’s pause for a moment to take it all in. Maybe grab a pen and paper to physically write the date down five times so that you don’t accidentally keep putting 2021 on all your documents. (No? Just me?)

If you’re a fan of New Year’s resolutions, you probably already have a to-do list chock full of ambitious financial goals. We don’t want to overwhelm you with another lengthy list of money chores on top of that, so we’re keeping it short and sweet this month.

Here’s what money moves made it on the January agenda.

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1. Return your holiday gifts on time for a full refund

As the holiday season is winding down, now is the time to return all the unwanted gifts that you put on a big, cheesy and thoroughly convincing grin upon receiving.

You know the ones: the third blender even though your countertop is already overflowing, the new slacks that didn’t take into consideration the pandemic pounds you’ve put on, and the throw pillows that don’t match a single shade of color in your home.

For most items, major retailers typically have a standard 30-day return policy from the date of purchase. But this time of year, several stores have extended holiday gift return policies.

Here are a few stores and dates you should know:

  • Amazon: Return by Jan. 31 for most items purchased directly from Amazon between Oct. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2021.
  • Best Buy: Return by Jan. 16, for most items purchased between Oct. 18, 2021 and Jan. 2, 2022.
  • GameStop: Return by Jan. 15 or 30 days from purchase date for gifts purchased after Oct. 31, 2021. (Receipt or online order number required.)
  • Target: Return by March 26 for unopened gifts purchased Oct. 1, 2021 through Dec. 25, 2021.
  • Walmart: Return by March 26 for items sold or shipped by Walmart from Nov. 1, 2021 through Dec. 25, 2021.

To be eligible for a full refund, the gifts need to be unopened. In most cases, you’ll need a gift receipt, but some retailers (like Walmart and Target) may offer you store credit or a gift card if you don’t have one. If you don’t have a receipt or proof of purchase, it’s worth calling the retailer's customer service line to learn your options before hauling the gift to the store.

2. Understand your health care rights under the new No Surprises Act

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about one in five emergency room visits results in a surprise medical bill for the patient.

That may soon change. As of Jan. 1, the No Surprises Act is in effect. The newly enacted legislation is aimed at ending surprise medical bills. Or, at the very least, giving you some recourse if you receive one. The law also requires private health insurers to issue ID cards that must include your deductible, out-of-pocket maximum and a phone number for consumer assistance.

The act aims to curb surprise bills by putting the onus on health care providers and insurers to flag and negotiate surprise bills before they reach you. In addition, health care providers are required to inform you of your new protections under the No Surprise Act.

Ideally, this should resolve most surprise billing scenarios, but some unexpected bills may still slip through from either your health care provider or your insurer, according to the KFF.

In that case, it will be up to you to identify any surprise bills and dispute them through a newly created external review process. And, luckily, you will not have to be involved in the dispute. Your health insurance company and the service provider must duke it out, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

This new law is a big deal, says Dan Weissmann, a health care reporter and host of the podcast An Arm and a Leg. It finally provides some relief for everyday folks from unexpected medical bills, which he says are “one of the most annoying, terrifying problems a lot of us have faced” in the health care system. Still, it’s unclear how effective the law will be, in part because there are limitations to its rules.

“There are all kinds of caveats off the bat,” Weissmann says. “Places where it doesn't apply, like regular ambulances, birthing centers and some urgent-care centers.”

The new billing rules affect those with private health insurance through an employer or through the Health Insurance Marketplace. There are also some new protections for the uninsured, as well. The law doesn’t affect folks on Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs Health Care or other similar public health insurance programs.

You can report violations and learn more about your rights on a new federal website that launched on Jan. 1 or by phone at 1-800-985-3059.

3. Order your free at-home COVID-19 tests

Another program going into effect this month: President Biden’s at-home COVID-19 test giveaway.

The Biden Administration recently announced plans to buy half a million at-home coronavirus tests and distribute them to all who need them, free of charge. The plan is part of a larger effort to curb the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.

The White House is currently scrambling to procure the tests, which it will purchase in batches, according to Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary. The first delivery should arrive in early January. Psaki says a new government website will launch after the first batch is received.

There, you can sign up to order your free at-home coronavirus tests directly to your door. Details beyond that are sparse.

If you need at-home tests before then, you may have trouble finding them. One unexpected place you should check: your local library. Recently, several states have started distributing their local stockpiles for free through public libraries and other community centers.

If you’re not having any luck finding at-home COVID-19 tests for free, then you can try the e-commerce sites of national retailers. We found these six at-home coronavirus tests available online, though it’s been common for them to cycle in and out of stock. The downside is that you’ll have to front the cost.

Be sure to save the receipts, though. Starting this month, private insurers are required to reimburse you for at-home tests, just like they’ve been doing for the tests done at labs and pharmacies. But the exact reimbursement process is unclear. It will likely vary by insurer and may not apply to tests purchased before 2022. According to The New York Times, the White House plans to release the full details of the arrangement by Jan. 15.

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