Gift Card Warnings for Consumers

Stay away from troubled retailers and spend cards quickly.

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With shoppers spending about $25 billion on gift cards this holiday season, consumers advocates are issuing advice on avoiding potential pitfalls:

  • Spend it quickly. With more retailers expected to go out of business in 2009, gift cards could quickly be rendered worthless. So if you receive one, make sure to spend it as soon as possible. (Shopping in late December and early January will also get you post-Christmas discounts.) If you give one, Consumer Reports recommends staying away from troubled retailers.
    • Give debit cards instead. Jody Farmer, vice president of CreditCards.com, recommends giving general purpose cards that are issued by major credit issuers and are used just like credit cards. To recipients, says Farmer, the gift is like getting a shopping spree. General purpose cards are much more flexible than gift cards because you can spend them anywhere.
      • Read the fine print. Sometimes, gift cards come with fees, expiration dates, or limits on where they can be used. Make sure you know the limits. In some cases, you can register the gift card with the retailer to protect against loss.