A guide to gift cards

November 8, 2009 KNOW YOUR CARDS
Store Specific Cards
In Illinois, these cards must be good for at least five years and many store specific cards never expire.
Usually, these cards have no inactivity fees and no purchase fees.
Store merchants can usually check and report balances for no charge.
Multiple Merchant Cards --VISA, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover
Cards usually charge a fee to purchase cards. The fees are commonly between $4 and $7.
Some cards may charge a monthly fee or an inactivity fee.
Balances are usually available only through the card issuer. Often a fee is charged when balance inquiries are made.
Miscellaneous Cards -- phone cards, rewards cards, gift cards for specific events.

CHOOSING THE BEST TYPE OF CARD
Store specific cards usually have no fees. But, they can only be used at one store. So, it is best to know the preferences of the recipient. It is also important to purchase cards from trusted merchants who will remain open for business in the coming months.
Multiple merchant cards usually have fees. So less money is available for the recipient to spend. But, they do have the advantage of being used at multiple merchants.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK
What fees can be charged to obtain and use the card—purchase, history and other inquiries, card replacement, monthly maintenance, and inactivity?
If a card is lost or stolen, what are the procedures for replacing a card?
Can payment be split between a gift card and another method of payment?
How are small balances on cards handled—use it or loose it, or cash back?

GETTING VALUE FROM YOUR GIFT CARDS
Read the fine print and terms of your card.
Keep a safe record of the card number, and provider contact information for lost, stolen or damaged replacement cards.
Hold on to your gift cards -- even if depleted-- in case you need to make a return.
Use the card within six months of receipt to decrease risks of expiration, monthly maintenance fees or store bankruptcies.

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