Tips For Buying and Using Gift Cards This Holiday Season

Tips For Buying and Using Gift Cards This Holiday Season

December 11, 2012 Updated Dec 11, 2012 at 1:25 PM EDT

Thinking about giving a gift card to someone on your Christmas list? According to the National Retail Federation, you're part of the 81.1 percent of consumers who will.

The NRF predicts total spending on gift cards will hit $28.79 billion this year, a significant increase over last year's figures.

However, the Wall Street Journal says those gift cards can be easily forgotten, as from 2005 to 2011, $41 billion on gift cards went unspent.

"Giving gift cards is an easy solution if you don't now what to buy, but giving cash guarantees that your gift will be used and not forgotten in a wallet or drawer," said Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com. "Gift cards may be easy to give, but they are not all the same, so it is important to read the details about the card before you buy."

Here are a few consumer tips for buying and using gift cards: 

* Use them before they expire. Merchant and bank-issued gift cards must now be good for five years, thanks to the CARD Act provisions. Reloadable cards can expire five years after the money was last added.

* If you will not use the card or would prefer to have the cash, you can resell the card on sites like www.PlasticJungle.com, www.CouponTrade.com, and www.GiftCardGranny.com. Most cards sell at a 5 to 10 percent discount or you may receive as much as 80 to 90 percent back.

* There are limitations on where virtual cards can be used. It can't be used at cruise lines, ATMs, or for recurring charges.

* The "valid thru" date for a gift card is the date through which your physical plastic gift card or eGift card number may be used. Even if the "valid thru" date associated with a card has passed, its available balance remains unchanged and intact. In order to keep making purchases, you may have to call customer service.

* Keep the card number and the four-digit card security code in a safe place in case your card gets lost or stolen.

* Purchases made with virtual gift cards don't have the same protections as credit cards. Merchandise purchased with the card is subject to the merchant's return policies. Purchases made with the virtual gift card are similar to those made with cash.

For more tips and information, please visit www.LowCards.com.

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