December 13, 2007 - Posted at 4:12 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO, AR -- Shopping for gifts can be a real dilemma...Just what do you get the person who has everything? Gift cards may be the answer: one size fits all, and the recipients can get exactly what they want. But with the holiday shopping season in full-swing, some folks may not take the time to read the fine print.
Last year, consumers lost an estimated $8 billion dollars on gift cards they received or bought. Some of that is because people didn't pay attention to the terms and conditions.
Holiday shoppers are in high gear with only a few weeks until Christmas...and some items are a little hard to find right now.
"The Nintendo Wii is extremely hot and hard to get and anything with Hannah Montana and High School Musical is extremely popular right now," said Target store team leader William Hawkins.
But you don't have to go home empty handed...Jonesboro's Target store offers gift cards from $5 to $1,000.
Something shopper Randi Howard will be putting under her tree this year.
"We are buying gift cards for one whole side of the family instead of buying gifts," said Howard.
While this year 88% of Americans are expected to purchase two or more gift cards, Arkansans have a new law to help them understand the terms and conditions to the gift cards they purchase. Gift cards with expiration dates cannot expire within the first two years of issuance. Fees cannot be imposed on the card during this two year period and any fees or expiration dates must be denoted on the actual gift card.
"Gift cards are always a great, great purchase and every year and every year, for the last five or six years, gift card issuance has really increased dramatically," said Hawkins.
"It's about convenience," said Howard, "And they can get what they wanted instead of them getting what I wanted them to have."
This new Arkansas law does apply to retailers; it does not apply to bank issued gift cards. Bank gift cards are governed by federal banking regulators and are subject to an independent set of rules.
Gift card tips courtesy of www.ftc.gov.
Tips for buying gift cards
- Regardless of who you buy a gift card from - or where: Buy from sources you know and trust.
- Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites; the cards may be counterfeit or may have been fraudulently obtained.
- Read the fine print before you buy. If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
- When you're buying a card, ask about expiration dates and fees. This information may appear on the card itself, on the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer's website. If you don't see it, ask. If the information is separate from the gift card, give it to the recipient with the card to help protect the value of the card.
- Inspect the card before buying. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Also make certain that the codes on the back of the card have not been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report tampered cards to the store selling the cards.
- Give the recipient the original receipt to verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen.
- Consider purchase fees: Is there a fee to buy the card, or activate it? If you buy the card online or on the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling? Does expedited delivery cost more? Consider fees for the recipient. It might be embarrassing to give a $50 gift card to someone if much of the amount gets gobbled up in fees.
- Check on purchase exceptions. For example, can the recipient use a store-specific gift card at either the physical store or at the store's website? Can an "all purpose" card really be used to buy groceries or gasoline?
Tips for using gift cards
- If you've received a gift card, be smart about how you use it. Read the terms and conditions when you get the card, and check for an expiration date or any fees. If you didn't get the card's terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt, or the card's ID number, ask for them from the person who gave you the card, and then keep them in a safe place.
- Treat your card like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. You may be out the entire amount on the card. Some issuers don't replace the cards, but others do if you pay a fee. If an issuer charges for a replacement card, you'll most likely need to document the purchase and provide the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free numbers to report lost or stolen cards.
- If your card expires before you've had a chance to use it or exhaust its value, contact the issuer. They may extend the date, although they may charge a fee to do it. Some merchants have stopped charging inactivity fees or imposing expiration dates, so it pays to check with the issuer to make sure you've got the most up-to-date information.
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