LOS ANGELES -- So, you've selected the gadgets to give your loved ones, and you're at the checkout line. Suddenly you're asked if you want an extended warranty or protection plan for a modest sum, and the line is piling up behind you. Do you opt for the foot-long receipt with terms and conditions that you'll have to keep in a secure place?
Even if such a plan is right for you, just say no.
Many plans can be started within 30 days of buying your phone, TV, camera or other gadget. Some online outfits will cover gadgets starting a year or more after purchase. Waiting will let you shop around to make sure you get the right coverage at a reasonable price. In many cases, you might conclude you don't even need it.
Here's a quick thumbnail of what's at stake:
-- WHAT'S WHAT
Most products already come with a warranty covering factory defects and other problems that are not of your own doing. With an extended warranty, you pay a service provider, typically an outside company, to cover problems that arise after the manufacturer's warranty period ends. Such extended warranty plans won't cover accidents and other problems if it's your fault, though. Typically, they cover what manufacturers' warranties cover, but do so for several months or a few years longer.
For accidents, you'll need a protection plan. These plans can extend the warranty, but also cover accidental drops, spills and dunks, which have become more frequent thanks to the rising number of mobile devices these days. They often don't cover loss and theft. For that, you'll need insurance, which is offered by wireless carriers if you are getting a mobile device.
-- DO YOU REALLY NEED IT?
Retailers will push such plans because it's another revenue stream for them.
Consumer Reports magazine doesn't believe buyers need them.
It says the "vast majority" of repairs that qualify for warranty coverage occur within the standard warranty period. It also says the cost of the extra coverage -- a median $73 for items purchased in-store and $64 for online purchases -- is too high given the very low risk something will happen outside that period. Also, credit card companies will often extend the warranty for free.
Senior Editor Jim Willcox says you should even forego extra warranty coverage on lesser-known TV makers.
"Before you add on the cost of an extended warranty, why not just buy a better TV from a major brand?" he says.
Consumer Reports also doesn't believe protection plans are worth it.
Plans for gadgets such as phones and tablets typically run $7 to $11 a month, or up to $264 over two years. On top of that, if you do make a claim, you'll end up paying a deductible of $49 to $200. In many cases, you're better off accepting the risk of paying $500 or more to replace your gadget if something terrible does happen. And for phones, even though cracked screens are common, they will typically still work until your next upgrade.
-- THE FINE PRINT
Every plan is different and each has its own minefield of exceptions.
The Advanced Geek Squad Protection Plan at Best Buy covers liquid spills, but not complete submersion -- just in case you're thinking of going kayaking with your iPad. Some plans don't start coverage right away. For instance, Protect Your Bubble's coverage doesn't kick in until 14 days after you sign up. SquareTrade may offer you a refurbished item if a new one isn't in stock. Few plans cover loss of data.
It's one big reason not to buy such plans at the register. Take the time to research what's covered and what's not.
-- THE BOTTOM LINE
Keep in mind that if your product breaks, you might be able to repair it for less than the cost of replacing the product outright. Many of these plans do take away the hassles of finding the right repair shop and figuring out whether it makes better sense to repair or replace. But you're paying a price for that convenience.
If you're not up for a pricey protection plan, you can also take other reasonable precautions, such as backing up your data frequently and buying a sturdy case.