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Making the Most Out of Gift Cards This Holiday Season

-NRF Offers Tips for Gift Card Givers and Receivers-  

As the most requested gift for the fifth year in a row, gift cards remain a focal point of holiday shoppers. In NRF’s latest consumer spending survey, many adults said they would like to receive gift cards this holiday season. In a year when most people have cut back on, if not completely cut out, spending on themselves, gift cards could be a welcome gift for a person who has had their eye on something special.  But those who want a gift card may still have some convincing to do.

1. Know the difference between gift card policies from retailers and banks.
Shoppers should be aware that there are big differences between store-issued and bank-issued gift cards. Most national retailers do not have fees or expiration dates associated with their gift cards. On the other hand, gift cards issued by banks, malls, and credit card companies are more likely to add expiration dates and tack on annoying activation, maintenance, inactivity and transaction fees. Some bank-issued gift cards even charge a fee for simply checking the balance.

2. Personalize your gift card. There are ways to personalize a gift card without breaking the bank. When giving a gift card, make it more personal by packaging the card with other small items you know a person would like. Personalize it even more by purchasing a gift card from a retailer that allows shoppers to design their own cards with personal messages and photos.

3. Buy gift cards from reputable retailers. To ensure that a recipient receives the card’s full value, shoppers should only buy gift cards from reputable retailers, not online auction sites. Gift cards sold through online auction sites are more likely to be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently, and may have no value when redeemed in stores or through retailers’ websites.

4. Spend your gift card, don’t save it. Because retailers are not allowed to count a gift card until it is redeemed, companies will be enticing consumers to redeem their gift cards by holding special sales after Christmas and stocking shelves with new merchandise in January to give shoppers more of a selection.

In many states, gift cards that go unused or unredeemed for more than a few years are often treated as "abandoned" property. Where these laws apply, sometimes in as little as two years, retailers are required to turn over unused gift card dollars to state governments under the guise of returning the “abandoned” money to the gift card purchaser. States make millions of dollars a year from these clauses. Consumers are encouraged to spend their gift cards within the first year of purchase so that they—not the state where the gift card holder lives—receive the full value.

5. Keep your receipt. Some retailers are able to reissue a lost gift card if consumers have kept the original purchase receipt. Many retailers also allow gift card recipients to register their card through the company’s website, which enables them to check their balance online and receive a new card if they lose or misplace the original one.