Now that Thanksgiving is past, we are being bombarded with opportunities to spend our money for gifts. Many choose the option of gift cards.
The incentives are everywhere. The upside is one size fits all and the recipients can get exactly what they want from a retailer or restaurant. The perfect answer? Perhaps ... but be aware so your fun doesn’t get harmed.
The Federal Trade Commission says that retail gift cards sold by retailers and restaurants are usable only with those merchants. Bank gift cards (such as MasterCard or Visa) can be used wherever the brand is accepted. Realize also that typically if the full amount is not used, there is no cash back.
Last August, these new rules went into effect for gift cards:
b Money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from date of purchase or the last date additional money was loaded onto the card. If the expiration date listed on the card is earlier than these dates, the money can be transferred to a replacement card at no cost.
b Inactivity fees can be charged only after a card hasn’t been used for at least one year, and you can be charged only once per month. But you may be charged a fee to buy or replace a lost or stolen card.
b The expiration date and fees of a card must be clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging. Cards produced before April 1, 2010, might list an expiration time or inactivity fees and can be sold through Jan. 31, 2011. However, no matter what your card says, you are protected by new rules.
When you shop for a gift card:
b Buy only from trustworthy sources. Buying from online auction sites can be risky because cards may be counterfeit or fraudulently obtained.
b Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? What about shipping and handling fees?
b Will fees be deducted from card after you purchase it?
b Inspect the card before you buy it. Be sure none of the protective stickers have been removed, codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a PIN number or any other damage.
b Give the recipient the original receipt to verify the card’s purchase in case it’s lost or stolen.
b The financial condition of the retailer or restaurant must be considered. Will they be in business for at least the next year?
If you’re a recipient:
b Read terms and conditions when you receive the card and check for an expiration date.
b Use your card as soon as you can. It’s not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget them.
b Ask the person giving you the card for the card’s terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt or the card’s ID number.
b Treat your card like cash. If lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Some issuers may replace it for a fee with proof of purchase and ID number on the card.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 247-4355 Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.