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Gift Cards: Use Them While They Last

Posted December 26, 2006

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— One recent survey reported that 80 percent of people who were asked said they planned to buy someone a gift card this holiday season. The National Retail Federation said it was expecting people to plunk down nearly $25 billion for gift cards—up from $18 billion last Christmas season.

And that’s just for gift cards from stores. That doesn't count restaurants, various kinds of services and "universal" cards sold by banks.

Overall, business analysts say, sales of cards of all kinds should top $80 billion for the year.

Selling the cards is only half of the deal, however. Recipients have to use them.

If you get a card, use it! The industry estimates that about 10 percent of cards sold this year will never be used. Some cards have expiration dates. And even if your gift card does not expire, it’s value may be leaking away right in your pocket.

Many cards come with restrictions and fees. One card, for example, charges $2 a month after 12 months. After a year, another card charges a $4.95 monthly fee until the value of the card reaches zero. One card even charged a $25 "maintenance fee" every six months!

Those fees are most common with gift cards bought at a mall or through a bank.

Leave a gift card in your wallet long enough, and it can actually end up in the state's "abandoned" property account. While rules vary from state to state, North Carolina requires retailers to turn over unused gift card dollars, sometimes after only two or three years.

Keep in mind, too, that losing cards or having them stolen while you hang onto them is like losing money. Stores often will not replace them.

The federal government regulates gift cards sold by nationally insured banks, and proposed regulations would require that kind of gift card to include the expiration date, customer-service contact information, and a list of fees right on the cards.

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  • WhatEver Dec 28, 2006

    Gift cards are nice, but wouldn't it be better to give the person money instead. That way they can use it any way they want.

  • kittnkboodle Dec 27, 2006

    That was ignorant if I have ever heard it. I have a year and a half old son and he received a gift card last Christmas to the mall and we still have money left on it. It was only 25 bucks! My husband, myself, and my son go to the mall at least once a month but if I pick him up clothes or shoes, I don't feel that those are items that he should have to essentially, pay for himself. And toys.. what a joke! My son doesn't need any more toys! So, bottom line... it's not laziness but it's about what you can afford without having to use the gift cards OR most importantly, it's about buying an item that you feel is worthy of using a gift card.

  • ladypoetsteph Dec 27, 2006

    Even Wal-Mart gift cards are to leak after awhile. If 10% of those that gets cards don't use them why even accept it? It's a waste of the givers money & even time. I sure wouldn't give a gift card to someone that I knew wasn't gonna use it. Gte off your butts & take the trip to that store to use it. It's just you people being lazy that don't use your cards.