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Before taking that gift card to the cashier, holiday shoppers should know whether the card will empty their wallet while filling stocking.
Gift cards have become popular Christmas gift items, but can come with strings attached that can prevent them from being fully utilized. Thanks to a federal law that went into effect in 2010, owners of gift cards are more likely to get the full value of their card, but there still are issues consumers need to know, according to the Better Business Bureau.
CEB TowerGroup, a research and advisory firm for the financial services industry, estimates $110 billion in gift card spending for 2012, up from about $100 billion last year. They predict spending will reach $138 billion by 2015.
The unused value of cards for 2012 is estimated at $1.8 billion, an all-time low. That figure is projected to drop because of the 2010 regulations.
Krista Shipley, a manager at Kohl’s, said gift card sales always increase in the days before Christmas, as shoppers search for last-minute gift items.
“They still continue to be exceptionally popular,” Shipley said.
Money on a gift card can’t expire for at least five years after the card is bought or loaded with additional money, but the card itself can still expire before that period. A new card might be needed to access the money attached to it, according to a BBB news release.
Fees also are something shoppers need to be aware of while picking up cards. Fees can be charged after a year of inactivity, according to the news release. A fee can only be charged once a month, but the amount that can be charged is unlimited.
This information, along with an expiration date, must be available to buyers, so Reanna Smith-Hamblin, vice president of communications for the BBB of Louisville, urges shoppers to look for these details.
“The main thing is to read all the fine print before you do anything,” she said.
Smith-Hamblin said the bureau mostly receives complaints about gift card scams or people with cards attached to businesses that no longer exist. BBB officials suggest considering the financial condition of a business before purchasing a card. To avoid scams, Smith-Hamblin encourages shoppers to avoid buying cards from third parties, such as online auction sites, and check to see if the card has been tampered with in any way.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or email@example.com.