Gift Cards Have Lowered Fees and Bumped Up Consumer Protections

Photo (cc) by 401(K) 2013

Over the past several years, small envelopes containing a plastic gift card and topped with a tiny bow have bumped many of the traditional gift-wrapped boxes under the Christmas tree.

Gift cards have been the most requested holiday gift for the past nine years. Because they take the guess work out of trying to choose the perfect present, they’re also a popular choice with shoppers.

Bankrate recently conducted a gift card survey and found that not only are gift cards getting cheaper to buy, but they’re offering more consumer protections, for hazards like theft and loss, than they have in the past.

“With so many recent data breaches and the transition to EMV chip credit cards, security is top of mind for many Americans,” banking analyst Claes Bell said in a statement. “Retailers are taking note and have made gift cards a much safer way to spend money.”

Sounds great, right? So, which gift card should you buy? Well, that depends on your needs. For example, you need to consider how much money you want on the card, if it’s reloadable and whether it can be purchased and downloaded to a smartphone.

Fortunately, Bankrate did some homework to make it easier for you to select a gift card this holiday season. Bankrate surveyed more than 60 different gift cards, including general purpose cards, store-branded cards, restaurant cards, airline cards and gas station cards.

Highlights from the Bankrate card comparison survey include:

  • Security codes: About half of gift cards offer a security code option now, up from 35 percent in 2014.
  • E-cards: Roughly 67 percent of gift cards are now available as e-cards, an increase from 59 percent in 2014. This is a great option for millennials and other people who have a tendency to misplace gift cards. The “eGift cards are popular for several reasons,” said Monica Eaton-Cardone, CEO at Chargebacks911. “They’re offered by most major retailers, funds are available for use within minutes, and balances can be monitored online.”
  • Purchase fee: About 17 percent of gift cards had purchase fees attached to them last holiday season. This year, that number has dropped to 13 percent.
  • Expiration: Bankrate found that just 8 percent of gift cards have an expiration date. Some expirations apply solely to the physical card, not the funds that are loaded on the cards.

Although Bankrate’s gift card comparison is a valuable tool for consumers, Bell said this: “Everyone should still do their research before making a purchase, but generally, consumers don’t have to worry about being swindled when buying or using a gift card from a major bank or retailer.”

Check out “FBI Warns of Gift Card Fraud, Offers Tips to Avoid Scams.”

How often do you purchase gift cards? How do you select a card? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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