You know people say about gift cards: "Tell me what you want this year, or I'm getting you a gift card." But rather than considering it insensitive, if you think about it, getting a gift card in your stocking can be a blessing. If you really don't trust Santa's taste, you can trust that the process of returning the thing he decided on bring you can be quite a pain in the neck.
Whether it's a sign of a lack of effort or people are just sparing their family members some trouble, gift cards are expected to be the most sought-after holiday gift for the sixth season in a row, according to the National Retail Federation.
They're easy, convenient and give receivers at least some say over what they're getting. NRF's 2012 holiday consumer spending survey, conducted by BIGinsight, found that 81.1% of holiday shoppers will buy at least one gift card this year, spending an average of $156.86 total each on gift cards. That's the highest amount since the NRF's first survey 10 years ago. They project Americans will spend a total of $28.79 billion on gift cards this holiday season.
“Retailers are pulling out all the stops this year to make their gift cards personal, convenient and desirable,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, in a statement. “Savvy shoppers know they can purchase a much appreciated gift card with ease either in store, online or through their mobile device, and give their loved ones the option to buy something they really want or need.”
That's a lot of money at stake for American consumers, because if you aren't careful, a gift card can be your worst nightmare. If you aren't sure about a gift, HLN Money Expert Clark Howard says cash is always the best option. It won't expire, and it won't give you rules on when and where you can spend it! But if you're set on getting a gift card, or if you receive one, there are a few things you need to know in order to get the best bang for your buck! One recent change in the gift card market is that now under the CARD Act, a gift card’s funds can no longer expire prior to five years after it is issued or funds were last loaded on it. Knowing the ins-and-outs of gift cards and how they work can save you up to 30% on your holiday shopping, according to Card Hub, an online search tool that helps consumers search, compare and apply for credit cards.
“While a lot of people still hang onto the notion that a gift card makes for an impersonal present, we continue to buy them en masse nonetheless,” said Card Hub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou, a former Capital One senior director, in a statement. “Since you’ll likely shell out a significant amount on gift cards for friends and family this holiday season, your wallet will certainly welcome a way to save. Not only can you actually find gift cards from popular stores for less than face value without any catch, but strategically using online tools and tapping into the value of leftover gift cards will also save you both time and money during your holiday shopping adventures. We all know that both of these things are in high demand, yet low supply during the holidays.”
So in order to help consumers save some money and avoid getting ripped off this holiday season, Card Hub created a list of the 8 Things You Need to Know About Gift Cards.
- Wish lists lead to better gifts: A gift card really isn't very useful if it's for a store you aren't interested in, so if you have a wish list, people can get you a card that you'll actually use. Plus, gift card wish lists enable you to get more expensive gifts. Instead of getting 10 different gift cards from 10 random stores, you can request cards from only a select number of stores, put them together, and then buy a more expensive item that you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.
- Unused gift cards retain value: Each holiday season, roughly one-quarter of consumers have unused gift cards remaining from the year before, according to Consumer Reports. A lot of Americans are struggling financially and could benefit from unlocking the value of these cards, which can be done in three distinct ways, according to Card Hub. First, you can sell unwanted gift cards for cash. Secondly, most stores allow you to trade in old unused gift cards for new ones. Finally, most states have programs that allow you to recoup unused funds from expired gift cards under unclaimed property laws.
- Discounted gift cards are available: Discounted gift cards are available via online gift card exchanges. Consumers can save as much as 30% on popular gift cards, and there is typically no charge for shipping.
- There’s value in buying gift cards with rewards: Most credit cards allow you to redeem your rewards for gift cards from a wide variety of major retailers. In many cases, you can get more value out of this type of redemption strategy than redeeming for cash. For example, under Citibank’s rewards program, you need 10,000 ThankYou points to get $50 in cash back, whereas you only need 5,000 points (50% fewer) for a $50 gift card, according to Card Hub.
- General-purpose gift cards are costly: General-purpose gift cards, such as Visa gift cards or American Express Gift Cards, can cost you more in service charges than store-issued cards. General-purpose gift cards have fees because that’s how the issuers make a profit, which does nothing for the consumer. But store-issued gift cards typically don't charge fees, since the retailer automatically earns a profit the moment you buy its gift card.
- It’s easy to overspend with gift cards: When heading out to use their gift cards, two-thirds of consumers spend more than their cards’ face value, according to Consumer Reports. So, while gift cards are great for subsidizing the cost of large purchases, shoppers need to be extra careful and cognizant of their spending, especially during the holidays when all the excitement can lead to excessive over-spending that a lot of people really can't afford right now.
- Shipping costs rob value from your gifts: Roughly 30% of gift cards from major retailers charge for shipping, according to Card Hub data. But, there's a way to avoid that! Check out Card Hub's gift card search tool to identify the retailers that offer free shipping and/or digital gift cards, which can be sent directly to someone’s e-mail inbox.
- Prepaid cards aren’t gift cards: While gift cards and prepaid cards may look the same, these are two very different beasts! Consumers need to understand the differences between them and know what types of fees are associate with each, since prepaid cards usually come with recurring fees and require extra information from the cardholder.