A Poor Delivery: Post Office Gift Cards Not a Good Buy

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Post offices will start selling gift cards this summer, but here's why you should tell them, "return to sender."

Many post offices already have small gift shops, and the United States Postal Service long ago expanded its product line-up way beyond collectible stamps – you can now buy watches for $86 and Frank Sinatra CDs for $17.

But those items at least had some connection to the USPS: The watch in question features a stamp design on its face, and Sinatra once graced a stamp himself. There’s no such connection when it comes to post offices’ latest merchandising plan: selling gift cards. And unlike the cost of a stamp, they don’t come cheap.

Starting in May, about 2,000 post offices will embark on a two-year experiment to sell cards in amounts both fixed ($25 and $40) and variable ($26 to $100). If it makes money, expect another 3,000 post offices to join in by October – just in time for the holiday season.

Issued by companies like American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa, these will be “open-loop” cards ranging from $25 to $100. That means they’re good at any participating merchants. (The post office says it might later test “closed-loop” cards, which are only good at one merchant.)

But unlike the price of a stamp, the Post Office is tacking on extra fees. For the “fixed-rate” cards (those in denominations in $25 and $50) they’ll add an extra $4.95 fee. And the “variable-rate” cards (ranging from $26 to $100) will set you back an additional  $5.95.

While it may be tempting to pick up a gift card while waiting in those long lines at the post office, here’s some money-saving advice: Wait till you get home and buy them online. Here are 3 Tips to Buy Gift Cards for Less.

Stacy Johnson

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