Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

Gift Cards for the Holidays  
They're a one-size fits all choice but be sure you're aware of some of the tricks of the trade.

 

financialListen. Can you hear it? It's the frantic screams of shoppers looking for last minute gift ideas. And it's not just a sound of the holidays. Throughout the year you'll hear the same forlorn cries in shopping malls across the country. Whether it's finding a birthday present for the person who has everything or having no time to shop for the ultimate "hard to buy for" friend or relative, it's a common bond we all share. We've all been there—standing it a department store, tired, frustrated, and bewildered with sales clerks closing up for the night and your shopping options coming to an end right along with their work shift. Whether it's a case of trying to buy for a gift-challenged person or if the problem rests on your shoulders as the "worst decision maker in the world," there is hope—the "one size fits all" gift card. According to a recent survey conducted by American Express, an amazing 66 percent of Americans plan to purchase a gift card this year. The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers (such as you and I) will spend a total of $24.8 billion on gift cards this holiday season alone (a $6 billion dollar increase over the previous year's amount).

Many people see gift cards as an impersonal choice for a gift. But with gift prices rising year after year it has become increasingly difficult to find "a little something" for those on your gift list (your co-workers, paperboy, hair stylist, and acquaintances) that you know "just well enough." Gift cards help return a little bit of control to your life. Instead of spending hours looking for just the right thing, (only to find it—and a price tag that blows your entire shopping budget!) you can opt for a gift card that will enable the recipient to pick whatever his or her heart desires. After all, who isn't tired of looking at a closet full of sweaters that have never been worn and ties that hang around as reminders of everyone's sparkling taste! In many cases, gift cards can be accumulated and applied to larger dollar purchases, allowing your favorite woodworker to get that table saw he's always wanted or your sister to save for that leather coat she "has to have!"

But just as with making any purchase, Caveat emptor—Let the buyer beware. With so many cards being issued from so many retail establishments, it's easy to assume that they will all function in the same manner. That is not always the case. Some cards can only be used at the retailers store locations (not at outlet stores or for online shopping). Some have expiration dates while others allow the holder to "reload" the card with additional funds. Some cards charge fees for things such as monthly maintenance, replacement, balance inquiries, activation, and conducting a transaction. For others, if a card remains inactive the company will deduct a fee each month, reducing the balance until the card is used or the value has been depleted.

financialWith so many variables in play with respect to gift cards, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued some tips for consumers when buying and using gift cards.

  • Read any and all fine print before you buy a gift card. If you don't like the conditions and terms, buy a gift card somewhere else.
  • Be aware of any fees associated with the card for which the recipient might have to be responsible.
  • Note any "exceptions" to purchases made with the card. Is it only for use in a retail "bricks and mortar" store, or may it also be used at the store's outlet locations or on online at the store's website?
  • Are there fees to activate the card?
  • If you purchase the card online or over the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling to get the gift card to the recipient?
  • Any expiration dates and fees should appear on the card itself or the accompanying gift card sleeve or envelope or on the issuer's website. If you can't find information about potential fees and expiration dates, ask the sales personnel. If the information is separate from the card, include a copy of the information along with the card so the recipient knows the parameters for its use. You many also want to include a copy of the sales receipt along with the card (the recipient will know the value of the card regardless). If the card is lost of stolen, the recipient will need the receipt to attempt replacing the card or any amount remaining on it.
  • Treat the card like cash. If it is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Some issuers don't replace lost cards but some will for a fee.
  • If the card does have an expiration date and it passes before the card is used, contact the issuer. They may extend the date or charge a fee to do so. Due to complaints from hidden policies, many retailers have ceased charging inactivity fees and setting expiration dates, which simplifies the entire process.

If you have a problem or a complaint with a gift card, the FTC says the first step is to contact the store or financial institution that issued the card. If you are unable to resolve the problem through that avenue, the FTC can be contacted via its website at www.ftc.gov or by calling toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP.

So quit fussing and worrying over making the right choice. After all, how many coffee makers can one person possibly use? When you haven't a clue and the department store lights are beginning to go dark, opt for the gift card and a nice card filled with some personal sentiments. Then rest easy knowing your hard-earned money will go towards something worthwhile instead of becoming yet another sweater lining Fluffy's bed at nap time!

Sources:
American Express—http://home3.americanexpress.com/corp/pc/2006/gc_survey.asp
National Retail Federation—www.nrf.com
Federal Trade Commission—www.ftc.gov

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.



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