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Gift Cards: To Give and Receive

Gift cards.

We've all been there — that awkward situation in which you want to give a gift that's meaningful, useful and enjoyable, but you don't know what would fit the bill. When you simply don't know what to get for that person who has it all, the struggle to find the perfect present is real.

Fortunately, there's an easy solution to this uncomfortable problem: the gift card.

If you've reached for (or received) one of these small pieces of plastic recently, you're not alone. Retail industry analysts note that giving experiential gifts that allow recipients to choose exactly what they want is a growing trend. According to a 2017 report, the trend toward experiential giving — including gift cards — is strongest among millennials, Gen Z, parents, and households with an annual income of more than $75,000.

However, some gift cards come with strings attached. Keep these tips in mind when purchasing or receiving gift cards.

When You're Purchasing Gift Cards

When purchasing a gift card, only buy from a reputable source. This rule is especially relevant if you're buying a gift card online; the Better Business Bureau recommends avoiding online auction sites altogether, noting that cards may be fake, already used or stolen. (Note: Many retailers will cancel cards reported as stolen, rendering the card useless.) Similarly, use caution when buying a card on a gift card resale site because you won't be able to verify important details such as the card's amount and any expiration dates.

Buying in-store requires caution, as well. Before buying a card, check that its PIN covering has not been rubbed off and that any protective coverings or stickers are still in place. If a card looks as though it's been tampered with, don't buy it. Finally, keep the receipt in a safe place or give it to the recipient along with the card. In some cases, a stolen card may be reported and replaced with proof of purchase.

When You're Receiving Gift Cards

Avoid gift card pitfalls by paying attention to that fine print. Most importantly, check for expiration dates and fees. Keeping track of gift card amounts, balances and expiration dates (if applicable) will help ensure you take advantage of your card's full value.

It's easy to forget about a gift card in an overstuffed wallet or in an email inbox, and you don't want to lose any of the card's value. Some retailers allow recipients to register cards, a step that may offer additional protection in the case of a lost or stolen card.

Remember: While the Credit Card Act of 2009 limits hidden costs such as dormancy fees, cards that aren't used for 12 months may incur a fee, and cards that are unused after five years may expire.

Gift cards offer an easy way to give a present that the recipient truly wants. Observing simple safety rules and reading the fine print will help ensure that the gift cards you give and receive keep on giving!

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ECC Monitor: OK