More considerations if your presents are plastic

I get a lot of gift cards and I bet you do too.

Since it’s often hard to buy for people, our friends and family have resorted to giving us these cards. Once seen as the lazy person’s go-to present, gift cards have become a practical and acceptable way to give.

This holiday season, 8 in 10 consumers said they would be buying gift cards, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation. Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards, the highest amount in the survey’s 11-year history. The gift-card market is estimated to top $130 billion in sales by 2015, according to research by CEB TowerGroup.

Since 2010, gift certificates, store gift cards, and general-use prepaid cards come with some pretty good protections, thanks to the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, also known as the Credit CARD Act.

So as you begin your holiday shopping — some of you before Thanksgiving dessert is served — here are some tips if you plan on giving a gift card.

Fee limits. I hate to admit it, but I’ve lost the value of gift cards often because of fees. However, many fees are limited because of the CARD Act. Generally, fees can be charged if you haven’t used your card for at least one year. Restrictions apply to maintenance fees, inactivity fees for not using your card, usage fees, or fees for adding money to your card. Often general-purpose gift cards will charge a monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity. Gift cards issued by banks, malls and credit-card companies are more likely to have expiration dates or activation, maintenance, inactivity and transaction fees. Tip: Understandably, if you want to give someone the maximum flexibility to shop at any store, you might buy a general-purpose gift card. But help people out by again pointing out any fees that could be assessed on this type of gift card. Just include a little note or sticker that lists the date at which fees will be assessed. After all, if recipients don’t use the card, it’s money wasted.

If you get a gift card, be careful that you don’t overspend when you redeem it. A survey last year from the TowerGroup found that 30 percent of gift card recipients spend $25 more than the value of the card.

Oh, and I love this tip from Card Hub: If you have an old gift card that’s still good, but it’s looking a bit worn, check to see if you can trade it in for a new card. Regift the card if you’re looking for a gift for someone. But make sure it has the full value displayed on the front of the card.

Why would someone regift a gift card?

Perhaps the card is from a store the first recipient doesn’t patronize. As long as the gift card is for a service or store the regifting receiver would like, I don’t see the problem. Think of it as recycling. Besides I won’t tell and neither should you.

Michelle Singletary: michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

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