Tips for Buying Gift Cards

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

The gift card market is growing rapidly.  You will probably give or get one this holiday season. Gift cards make an ideal gift if everyone understands the terms and conditions.

There are two types of gift cards:

Retail Cards.  These cards can be bought and used at a specific retail-shopping stores selling clothing, toys, books, electronics or other consumer goods. Some retail gift cards can be used at other establishments such as restaurants owned by a corporation These establishments would be listed on the back of the card.

Bank Cards.  Bank gift cards are popular and carry the logo of credit, debit or charge card companies like Visa or MasterCard, or Discover. They may be issues by a bank, mall, or other institution.  The advantage to bankcards is that they can be used anywhere that type of payment is accepted; and it may also allow the owner to withdraw cash at ATMs.

Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift, but ask questions.  Know the terms and conditions, the expiration date, dormancy fees, account maintenance fees, cash-out fees, replacement card fees, activation or reactivation charges and other fees that may apply.
Many recipients of gift cards have discovered that their card had expired when they went to use it, or that it was worth less than its original value because fees had been deducted. Other people learned that the item they selected to buy with the card cost less than the amount on the card, and the remainder was not refundable as cash. Still, others discovered that they could only use the card at the retail stores, and not online.

If you are the giver of a gift card, purchase gift cards only from reputable sources. Cards sold by individuals or at auction sites often turn out to be stolen or counterfeit. Check gift cards displayed on a hanging rack carefully before purchasing one of them. Thieves have been known to copy the numbers from these cards and then use them to make purchases through the Internet after the card has been activated. Be sure there is a number for customer service or a help line that can be passed on to the recipient, and make sure stores are conveniently located for the recipient.

If you receive a gift card, review the terms and conditions of a gift card immediately when you get it.  Check for the expiration date.  Carefully read the conditions of using the card and avoid transactions that will result in fees.  You will enjoy spending the total value of the gift.

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences