Gift Cards and Smart Shopping

You probably love getting gift cards for your birthday or other occasions so you can pick out exactly what you want at the store. Gift cards also are easy to buy and give to friends and relatives because they're widely available at stores and even at banks. But while gift cards may seem to be the perfect gift, they also can come with potential risks and costs. Whether you're giving or receiving a gift card, remember this:

Watch out for fees. You may be charged a fee for purchasing a gift card. You also may have fees deducted each time you use the card at a store or restaurant. Or, you may be charged fees for not using the card, perhaps $1 or more each month after going a year or so without making a purchase. "When a fee is deducted, that's less money for you to spend," said Janet Kincaid, FDIC Senior Consumer Affairs Officer.

Find out if there is an expiration date. "Gift cards aren't exactly like cash—they usually can't be used indefinitely," advised Kincaid. "You don't want to put gift cards away and forget about them because, if you let them expire, you could lose the entire balance on the card."

Immediately report a lost or stolen gift card to the card issuer. Some companies will replace a lost card (for a fee), others may not.

If you have a problem with a gift card that you can't solve by talking to a store employee, consider contacting your state government's consumer protection office, which will be listed in your local phone book or other directories.

source: US FDIC

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