What’s wrong with cash? That’s the question Bill Cloud, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs, posed during a discussion with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter about gift cards.
He’s not the only one asking, particularly as the fine print about gift cards is being magnified under the microscope of new legislation passed by Congress this year to curtail the fees and charges often attached to what is supposed to be a gift.
This AJC story written by reporter Carrie Teegardin exposes what retailers aren’t inclined to tell you: If you don’t use the gift card, it could expire. If you wait too long to use it, it could be riddled with fees to re-activate it. That’s not the case across the board. Separating themselves from the bad news, some have eliminated fees and even expiration dates.
American Express, for instance, charges a fee to purchase the card, but has done away with all monthly fees on gift cards, including those already purchased.
Wachovia on the other hand touts a Visa gift card that costs $3.95 to purchase, but if it is unused within 12 months, Wachovia will deduct $2.50 every month from the card’s balance, the AJC reported. If the card still has value after its expiration date, Wachovia will charge $15 to issue a new one.
It’s easy to buy gift cards. Kroger sells them to numerous restaurants and retailers. It is even running a promotion — buy $100 worth of gift cards using your Kroger card, and get $10 off at checkout through Dec. 13.
So, what is wrong with cash? Is it any less personal than a gift card? It is every bit as flexible.
“A tank of gas I have to buy on the way home is not very memorable,” said Dan Horne, a marketing professor at Providence College on cash’s lack of appeal.
Consider this advice from consumer advocates before buying a gift card:
Consider cash: It never expires and is good everywhere. Who doesn’t like that?
Find out where the recipient likes to shop: Gift cards are often limited to one retailer. Either know what the recipient likes, or buy an all-purpose gift card, like a Visa or American Express card.
Check the fine print: Know what you’re buying, and let the recipient know as well. You may want to stay away from cards with costly fees and expiration dates. Georgia law requires that expiration dates be printed on gift cards or gift certificates. Dormancy fees must be either printed on the card or on a sticker affixed to it. If a card or gift certificate will expire or incur fees, don’t buy it.
Comparison shop: You’ll likely have to pay a purchase fee for a general purpose card, but avoid the gift cards that are riddled with all of the other potential expenses. Shop around for the best one.
Keep notes: Record the card or certificate number and other information so that you can request reissue if the card is lost.
Check service options: Make sure you can easily check the balance on your gift card or gift certificate.
Use it quickly: Why wait? If you’re given a gift card or certificate, go ahead and take advantage of it.
Is it cheesy to give cash? Does it mean as much to get cash as it does a gift card or gift certificate? Have you ever been burned by a gift card?
Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains and on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter