5 On Your Side

Gift Cards Convenient But Have Drawbacks

Posted November 23, 2006

Consumer Reports
Gift cards can be a good gift for that person on your holiday list that you just don't know what to give.

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.

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