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Pros, cons of gift cards

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POSTED: December 8, 2010 10:47 a.m.

For many who do last-minute holiday shopping, speed is essential. There’s no more time to ponder and compare and wander the aisles looking for the perfect gift.
Gift cards can be a fast purchase, but you still need to take a little care. Consider the recipient’s interests. Teenagers might appreciate a gift card to a music store. Handy homeowners will use a gift card to the local hardware store. For women, if you can find an all-mall card, so much the better.
However, not all gift cards are alike. While the industry used to be guilty of abuse with gift-card expiration dates and fees, new rules this year force merchants to keep the cards (and the balance) active for five years. If there are per-purchase fees, they must be written on the package. Balance carry-over fees can’t be assessed until the card has been used at least once. After that, however, fees can be assessed once a month, and there’s nothing to limit the amount of fees that can be charged for that.
If the card is lost, there’s no guarantee you can get a replacement, even with your receipt. If you can get a replacement, there are sure to be fees. Do your homework and be sure what you’re getting.
There are new warnings out this year about pre-loaded gift cards you take off the rack: There might not be any money there by the time your recipient uses them. Scammers have figured out how to read the code on a card, call the toll-free number on the back, and then spend that money. Instead of buying a pre-loaded card, get a blank card from a clerk or customer services and have the amount loaded while you wait. Then hold on to your receipt in case something happens.
For the internet-savvy recipient, consider an e-gift card, also known as a virtual gift card. You e-mail a special code to the recipient, who prints it out and takes it to the store. It spends just like a plastic gift card.
Be careful of the store: If it goes bankrupt, the gift cards you buy might be worthless.
Consider giving cash instead. While it’s thought that nearly 30 percent of gift cards go unused every year, nobody loses track of cash.

Uffington does not personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into his column whenever possible. Write to him in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to columnreply@gmail.com.

 

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