BBB Helps Consumers Get The Most Out Of Their Gift Cards

Dec. 18, 2013

With the popularity of gift card sales during the holiday shopping period, The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin recommends consumers carefully consider what type of card to get.

Gift certificates and cards take a lot of guess work out of trying to decide what to buy for a friend or loved one. According to the National Retail Federation, most consumers - almost six out of ten consumers surveyed said they prefer to receive a gift card for a holiday gift.

Gift cards help avoid the hassle of finding the right size or saving on shipping costs. They also offer freedom from having to stand in customer service lines for returns or exchanges.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which took effect in 2010, provides some protections to consumers who receive gift cards, such as requiring that card balances remain valid for five years after issuance or after they were last loaded with money. Fees and expiration dates may still apply, however, and fees can erode the value of the cards.

Store card or pre-loaded? Retail store cards do not have fees associated with them. The retailer benefits from getting the recipient into the store. However, if the recipient doesn't want to be locked into using a gift certificate at a particular establishment, consider using prepaid cards sold by financial institutions. Make note that different laws apply to cards issued by various financial institutions.

The BBB recommends the following tips when purchasing a gift card:

Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because they may be empty, counterfeit or stolen.

If you get one - use it! - Billions of dollars of cards go unused. Don't just tuck them away in a drawer. Using them early will help you get the full value.

Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? If you buy a card by phone or online, are there shipping and handling fees? If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.

Give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen. Make sure security seals are intact before buying them from stores.

Consider the financial condition of the business if it's a local retailer or restaurant. BBB encourages consumers to use gift cards as soon as possible. If the retailer or restaurant goes out of business before the card is redeemed, there will likely be no recourse for the card holder to get any money back.

Be wary of any offers for highly discounted cards and coupons through e-mail, social media links, online auctions and classified ad sites.

For more consumer tips you can trust, visit

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