With gold hitting all-time highs, cash-strapped Americans are cashing in. Just be careful: consumer protections are far and few between, and complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau against gold buying companies have tripled over the past year.

For complete details, check out WalletPop's Saving Experiment about how to sell your gold.

In the meantime, sellers, do your homework:

What's it worth?
Gem experts tell me that most consumers have no idea what their jewelry is worth. Shop it around locally and get a few estimates (2 or 3). See what reputable dealers have to say. Or, get an independent appraisal (You can find an appraiser through the American Society of Appraisers.)


How much can I get?
You should be able to get from 50%-90% of its market value. Of course, it depends what you have, who/where you're selling it to, how many middlemen there are, weight, content (24 karat is the purest so it commands a premium), and what the current price of gold is as the market fluctuates daily.

Should I sell my gold online?
Be careful! There are a lot of shady companies out there, all claiming that they're "Number One" and that they "Pay Top Dollar" or "More than the Competition." It's difficult to substantiate the claims, but keep this in mind: reputable ones don't do a lot of bragging, they quote you a price in advance of paying you, they don't have any complaints lodged against them (check with BBB), and are willing to send consumers a prepaid packing envelope that you can track online - it's registered, insured, and requires a signature.

Any recourse if I get burned?
If you mailed your gold in to an online retailer, and aren't happy with the amount they paid you, you can always request that your gold be returned. Just make sure you decline the payment within the designated time frame (generally you've got less than 8 days). Never received payment? Have other issues? Join the club and file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or your state attorney general.

Who pays the most?
Mail-in companies offer significantly less than jewelry stores or pawn shops. In fact, an undercover investigation conducted by Consumer Reports found that mail-in companies offered just 11%-29% of market value for 18-karat jewelry (Adding insult to injury, a recent analysis by the Today Show's consumer reporter, Janice Lieberman, found that one online buyer, www.hardgoldcash.com, paid just 8% of the gold's real market value!); jewelers and pawn shops paid up to 70% for the same pieces.



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