Do gift cards make good presents?


"Five years ago, I got these from my brother. I still haven't used them," Consumer Reports employee Rich Handel said.

This group of Consumer Reports employees is hardly a scientific sample, but their experiences show why buying gift cards may be a waste of money. One woman had accumulated dozens of gift cards.

"its starting to become a burden. I would rather have cash," Consumer Reports employee Usha Chari said.

"Believe it or not, it's estimated that $1.8 billion worth of gift cards purchased last year are gathering dust and are likely never to be redeemed," said Anthony Giorgianni with Consumer Reports.

While recent federal legislation requires retailers to honor cards for five years, monthly inactivity fees can kick in after a year, draining the value of the card long before it expires.

"I actually had one gift card where all the money was gone by the time I tried like three years later," consumer Olufemi Olu-Lafe said.

Gift cards with bank logos like American Express or Visa can be used at a wide variety of stores, but there is often an activation fee or purchase charge, usually around $4 to $6.

"Lost cards are another headache. Several big retailers, such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Puma and Aeropostale, say they won't replace them. Other retailers may charge you a hefty fee," Giorgianni said.

For instance, with the Visa card you can get at Simon Malls, you'll shell out $15 to replace a lost or stolen card.

"One more drawback: Don't expect the same fraud protections you get with traditional credit cards," Giorgianni said.

It's another reason Consumer Reports says use gift cards as soon as you get them.

If you're a buying gift cards this season, Consumer Reports says avoid those with purchase fees and keep your receipts in case one gets lost.

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