Getting More for Your Gift Card Buck

STLMommy.com operator gives tips on saving with gift cards, and the Better Business Bureau shows how not to get stuck with accompanying fees.

Gift cards are great for any shopper puzzled over what to get a friend, family member or loved one. They’re also great last minute gifts.

Sure, you can head to any store and pay $20 for a $20 gift card—or you can up your game and get more card for your buck.

Kim Julian, a St. Louis-based author who operates stlmommy.com, suggests trying plasticjungle.com to check for bargains.

“They offer anywhere from 10 to 50 percent off of gift cards,” said Julian, who links to some of the better deals on her site.

“Sites like Groupon or livingsocial.com, the way they increase their database is to offer good deals on gift cards. The beauty in that is that, although they’re building their database, you can always unsubscribe if gets to be hassle.”

Typically, signing up for a one-day deal site means just one email a day, but the savings can add up, Julian said.

Another way to save is by buying the cards on eBay, but she cautions to check the seller’s reputation. Check to see if they have good comments and high ratings or complaints about slow turnaround time and customers who didn’t get what they paid for.

Julian’s stlmommy.com site listed deals such as a $10 Cold Stone Creamery gift card for $5, a double dip savings. Her site listed the same deal on a card and a $20 Babies R Us card for $10.

“If you’re going to shop there anyway, why not get the card and pay less?” Julian said.

Restaurants also are big into gift card deals, so she suggests checking your favorite eating establishment’s website.

“If you love the Macaroni Grill, you can sign up on their site because they give a lot of great deals. likes to do it, too,” she said.

Fees erode card value

While gift cards or gift certificates are easy alternatives to cash or unwanted gifts, the St. Louis Better Business Bureau warns there are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing one.

If you’re giving the cards as a gift, make sure the person shops at the store or website regularly.

Some contain fees or restrictions that can erode their value, especially if not used within one year. One study indicates Americans have up to $30 billion in unused gift cards.

If you get an unwanted gift card, you can salvage some of the value by selling it to one of many resale sites, such as plasticjungle.com, livingsocial.com or cardhub.com.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act protects consumers who buy or receive gift cards, gift certificates and general use prepaid cards, those usable at many merchants and often branded by networks such as Visa or MasterCard.

Consumers now have at least 12 months to use gift cards before the cards lose value. The CARD act requires that card balances remain valid for five years after issuance or after they were last loaded with money, whichever occurred later.

After a year, only one fee can apply per month, and the amount and terms for fees must be disclosed to the user in advance. The fees may chip away at the balance each time a user makes a transaction, checks the balance, requests a replacement card or calls customer service.

Check fine print

“Gift cards may look like a good deal, but it pays to check the fine print before you buy one,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO, according to a release. “You may be better off simply giving cash or a check rather than a piece of plastic.”

The BBB recommends keeping in mind the following tips buying gift cards:

  • There is no maximum when it comes to monthly fees that can apply after a year of inactivity. A company could charge a very high amount as long as the fee is disclosed when you buy the card.
  • The plastic card may expire before the five-year redemption period required under the CARD act. Some cards operate like debit or credit cards and have an expiration date. To redeem the balance, you may need to ask for a new card. Expiration dates should be disclosed when you buy the card.
  • Check the gift card’s terms and conditions. If your friend wants to shop online, make sure the card can be used for that and not just in a store. Fees and limitations should be printed on the gift card packaging.


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