By Josh Smith, dealnews writer
Gift cards remain one of most popular gifts given during the holiday season, but they are not as easy a gift as you might think. There are still a few things you should do when looking for a gift card or when you receive a gift card to make sure you don't contribute to billions of dollars worth of unused gift cards issued each year. (If you can't use your own cards, learn how to sell gift cards instead.)
- Check the Expiration Date: Many states have issued guidelines about expiration dates and service fees for store gift cards, and plenty of big names in retail have eliminated expiration dates and fees. But many smaller retailers still have short expiration dates and fees for unused gift cards. We've seen gift cards from small business expire in as little as 3 months! Check out our listing of gift card policies from major retailers for everything you need to know about gift card fine print.
- Check the Back of the Card: Before you buy a card, check the back to make sure that the little scratch off area is pristine. Thieves have been known to take and copy down the information on cards and some have even cloned the gift cardslike you would a credit card. The best bet is to buy one online or from behind the counter.
- Buy From Reliable Sellers: The best places to get a gift card as a gift are direct from the retailer, online from the retailer, from a gift card reseller (like Walmart or a gas station) or from a gift card exchange — in that order (you can check our reviews of the various gift card exchange sites). Don't purchase gift cards from spam, unknown websites, some guy on Craigslist or other sources that stack the deck against you.
- Keep Track of Gift Cards: In most cases lost gift cards can't be replaced, but if there is still a balance on the card and you have all of the identifying information including the gift card number and proof of purchase, you may be able to get the card replaced. Before you give a gift card this year take a picture or scan the back of the card and your receipt. Add the image to Evernote in a special gift card notebook and you'll have everything you need.
- Make Sure They Want a Gift Card: A recent report from the Associated Press clues in on the fact that not all teens love gift cards and neither will all of the adults on your gift list. If you don't want your gift to go to waste, ask the recipient what they would like. If you're giving towards a more expensive gift give cash or try to get other family members to all chip in on a group gift card.
Josh Smith is a freelance writer who writes frequently about technology and consumer electronics and is based in Ohio. Follow him on Twitter — @josh_smith. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.