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Tips for giving gift cards this holiday season: Beware of fees, early expiration dates

Gift Cards
Posted at 4:00 AM, Dec 17, 2021

The holiday shopping season is winding down. So what to get for the person who has everything? For many, the answer is a gift card.

One shopper said she loves giving gift cards because "you don't know what they like, and they may take it back."

Another shopper said she was just tired of shopping.

"They can get what they want, and I don't have to shop for it," she said.

For many, gift cards are the perfect holiday gift. But as with anything, there are a few things consumers should consider before making a purchase.

Watch for early expiration dates

Kelly Goldsmith, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University, cautioned about the risks — particularly about gift cards to smaller businesses.

"When you've got a smaller retailer that's maybe not got a national footprint, you really need to be careful to pay attention to the details, because sometimes those smaller retailers are the ones that have a limited time to redeem the gift card," Goldsmith said.

She said it's important to read the fine print and know the rules for redemption.

Keep receipts

Those who buy gift cards in bulk should remember to keep receipts with matching serial numbers.

"I've personally had it happen when I buy a whole stack of gift cards from Amazon in different amounts, but then I forget which amount is which, and they're not always labeled," Goldsmith said. "So, if you have that receipt from Amazon that shows you the serial number and what it's worth, you can always cross-reference, and you can get yourself out of a jam."

A receipt can also protect shoppers and the gift recipient if there is a problem with the card, such as a card that was drained before purchase.

Watch for high fees on bank cards

Goldsmith says it's also important to read the fine print, especially on prepaid Visas or MasterCards.

"Some of them can carry fees. And if you see the fee and you think it's still worth your time to get that Visa gift card because it allows the gift recipient to have maximum flexibility, then do it, but just go into it aware of what you're getting," she said.

Retailer in trouble

Finally, avoid buying gift cards to a retailer that has been in the news for financial trouble, especially if the chain is closing stores.

Many people who bought and failed to use gift cards to Toys R Us and the electronics chain Circuit City ended up holding worthless cards.

Restaurant gift cards are always welcome, but small restaurants close every year, so it's best to use them quickly.

While gift cards are a great way to take care of someone on your list, be careful, so you don't waste your money


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