Last year, consumers purchased about $28 billion worth of gift cards, but more than $1 billion was never spent, according to a new Consumer Reports survey.
Although cards are convenient because they can come from individual retailers or from banks that can be used at a variety of stores, many often come with restrictions and fees. For example, one card charges $2 each month after a year. Another card, after a year, has a $4.95 fee until the value of the card reaches $0.
"We found one card that charges a maintenance fee of #25 every six months," said Tony Giorgianni or Consumer Reports. "So, if you have $50 on the card -- after a year, it's worthless."
Some cards that are lost or stolen will not be replaced.
So Consumer Reports recommends the following tips when purchasing a gift card:
- Check the list of terms on the card.
- Avoid cards with fees or expiration dates.
- Look for ones that can be replaced without charge if lost or stolen.
- Write a check or give cash. Both are a lot easier to use.
Pending federal regulations would require gift cards issued by national banks to include the expiration date, customer service contact information and a list of fees printed on the cards.