It's something many of us got as a present for Christmas, gift cards. But what you don't know about them could keep you from cashing in on their entire value.
Now that the holidays are over, Yolanda Hawthorne is shopping for herself. But with three daughters in their twenties, she doesn't always know what they want. That's why she goes with gift cards. "At this stage I would rather give them a gift card or something like that and let them go purchase their own item instead of trying to guess and then having to take it back," says Yolanda Hawthorne.
And she's not alone. Americans spent more than $110 Billion on gift cards this year. "When the customer just can't decide what it is they're looking for, that perfect gift, I tell them the gift card is the perfect gift. It always fits and never expires," says Cynthia Graves, JCPenney Temple Store Leader.
But that's not necessarily true for all companies. While some like JCPenney don't have expiration dates on their gift card, others do. And can even charge you fees for not using the card. "Inactivity fees can only be charged after at least one year that the card has not been used. And then fees such like that can only be charged once a month," says William Efron, with the Federal Trade Commission.
Whenever your picking out a gift card from one of the racks, one thing to do, is read the fine print. That way whoever you give it to won't get any surprises when they try to use it. "Any expiration date on the card must be clearly disclosed on the card itself and any fees, like inactivity fees, must also be clearly disclosed either on the card or on its packaging," says Efron.
Yolanda will check the terms and conditions, but thinks they should change the rules. "If they're going to have a fee for that, then they should tell you up front so the person purchasing card can pay that fee and the person getting the card doesn't," says Hawthorne.
Proving it pays to be informed.
Experts also say it's a good idea to use gift cards right away since they're so easy to misplace or lose.