Looking for the Perfect Holiday Gift?

Gift cards continue to gain popularity with the sale of cards rising this year to $100 billion. They are convenient and make spending hours in line, fighting traffic and hunting for that perfect gift a thing of the past. Gift cards leave us with more time to spend enjoying the holidays with family and friends rather than fighting the crowds at the mall.

A Consumer Report survey found that 62 % of consumers plan to give gift cards this year, but the sale of gift cards given in the spirit of the season can present some unwanted frustration. One problem experienced by shoppers is the purchase of gift cards from a retailer who later files for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy leaves gift card holders unable to redeem the cards, plus many gift cards have strings attached which can surprise your loved ones attempting to redeem them. Cards purchased from retailers are usually easy to use and do not include fees but, they may have expiration dates rendering them worthless after a specified period of time or may only be good if used at a specific location. Bank issued gift cards often include fees as well as various terms and conditions including expiration dates. Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift but, in the end your loved one could end up with no gift at all.

If you are planning on using gift cards this holiday season here are some tips to help protect your purchases:

1) Where to buy your cards? Buy from a source you know and trust. Cards purchased at online auctions may be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently. Cards found on racks in grocery stores are subject to being used by a crook who has written down the number prior to you purchasing the card. Make sure that any card you purchase from a rack has not been tampered with or opened. If possible buy your cards from a customer service representative and from a secured area.

2) What to look for? Read the fine print. Know the expiration date on the card you purchase. Many cards expire one year after the date of purchase. Make sure you read the fine print to ensure that the card will hold its value and not be eaten up by fees. Many cards have fees attached which can include monthly fees and activation fees.

Get a receipt. Include a receipt with the gift card in case it is lost or stolen. This will make it easier for the store to replace the card and protect it from use by someone else.

Consider giving cash or sending a check. This year, with the number of potential bankruptcies, the Consumers Union recommends you forgo the gift cards and stick to just old fashioned, hard currency.

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