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'Free' DTV converter boxes can't be returned?

A note with government-issued DTV converter box coupons seems to indicate they can't be returned, but the truth is that they can be exchanged for other coupon-eligible DTV converter boxes.

If you buy GE's lackluster DTV converter box, are you stuck with it? CNET

We finally got one of our government-issued DTV converter box coupons in the mail, and one of the notices on the accompanying information sheet caught our eye:

IMPORTANT UPDATE REGARDING REFUNDS: You will not be able to receive cash or credit for the coupon amount, but you can receive cash or credit for any amount you paid out of pocket, if the store policy permits.

To be honest, that's not much of a surprise when you consider how the coupon program actually works. If consumers were able to get credit or cash for returned DTV converter boxes, unscrupulous buyers could return a DTV converter box then use the credit to purchase any piece of electronics they wanted--which is definitely not the spirit of the coupon program.

But what happens if you get your DTV converter box back and it's broken? While you might think that note means that DTV converter boxes can't be returned, that's not the case. From the government's DTV converter box FAQ:

Can I exchange my TV converter box for another one?
If the retail store permits exchanges, you can exchange the converter you purchased for another coupon-eligible converter box.

So if you get a defective DTV converter box--or even if you don't like the one you bought--you can take it back for another one, depending on the store's return policy. Of course, the best option to make sure you get a good box the first time, and we've already done a comparison of a few DTV converter boxes on the market. And if you're willing to geek out a little bit, you can also check out Wikipedia's giant chart of converter box info (normal caveats about Wikipedia apply).

More DTV transition resources
CNET's Quick guide to the DTV transition
Don't buy a portable TV this year
Don't sign up for your $40 DTV converter box coupon--yet
DTV Coupon Program