It’s the holiday season and that means one thing: you are about to get a flood of gift cards from friends, family, coworkers and mild acquaintances for every store in the city. But before you get using them, there are a few things every shopper should know about these plastic presents. Having this information will save you money, time and make your experience a more positive one. It will also help you if you’re thinking of buying your own gift cards for someone on your holiday list.
- Be Wary of Fees. A lot of gift cards will have a simple tax that you would pay on a present anyway, and the same goes with shipping if you buy online. But every once in awhile you will come across one that has additional fees that are due at the time of payment. In addition, some will take cash off after a certain amount of time of disuse. Be sure to check the fine print before you buy.
- Be Wary of Monthly Maintenance Charges. Separate from actual fees, some cards will have a monthly fee that is taken from the balance until the full amount is gone. This can be anywhere for $0.01 to $2.95, so watch out for that as well. Luckily, most cards won’t have this charge.
- Take Note of Expiration. Very rarely you will get a gift card that has an expiration date. These can sometimes be renewed, but if you get one with this feature you should be sure to tell the person who receives it.
- Think about the Store Bankruptcy. If you see a store with a huge amount of clearance and sales items, hear rumors of them being on the verge of going out of business or notice a serious drop in stocks, stay away from gift cards and go with a physical gift or with another shop. When a store goes bankrupt you won’t be able to get a refund on what was spent.
- Sell or Trade Gift Cards. If you got a gift card that you know you will never use – which happens to us all every now and then – you don’t have to force yourself to spend it or banish it to the junk drawer. There are websites that will buy them from you. Coupon Sherpa has a good list of sites that buy gift cards.
- Be Aware of Devaluing. If you do have a gift card, don’t wait too long to spend, sell or trade it. Inflation and changing prices mean the amount you currently have won’t always be worth as much as it did when you first got the card.
- Try General Cards. It might seem like a great idea to get a gift card for someone to a store you happen to love that is only across town. But the person you are giving it to might not appreciate being so limited to single retailer. Try going with a wider owned company instead of a single store, or with a big chain. For example, instead of buying a Smiths gift card, why not a Kroger card good at all of their owned store chains?
- Avoid Small Amounts. If you gift someone with a pre-charged card, try not to be too stingy. Yes, times are tough and you don’t want to spend too much. No one is saying you have to break your bank, but what will someone do with $5? Next to nothing, so be sure to give enough cash to make it a worthwhile gift. Be sure to take in to account the price of items in the store; check their website to find out the average price of products.
- Check for Reauthorization. Whether you have a card or you are buying one, make sure it doesn’t have to be reauthorized after a certain date. This means that there is a “good through” date printed on the card, and after that day you have to ask for a new card from the issuers. This usually comes with a fee.
- Look at the Restrictions. There are some cards that come with restrictions. For example, in many states a gift card cannot be used to purchase cigarettes or alcohol, but in other states they can. Some can’t have the balance applied to a larger purchase or combined with other cards.
Gift cards are a great way to give a gift that someone will truly enjoy. They are far from impersonal, as they give the receiver the chance to get whatever they could possible want. But knowing the information above could give you what you need to make sure everything runs smoothly this holiday season.
Post image via this cool post on recycling gift cards.