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Here's what you should consider when buying gift cards:

Type of Card

Think about what kind of gift card you want to give. Traditional cards, which can be used at a specific retail or restaurant chain, still dominate the market. But bank gift cards carrying the logo of a major credit, debit or charge card, and accepted at a wide variety of locations, are increasingly popular. Most cards issued by shopping centers or malls are bank cards.
 
Fees

Fees vary widely from card-to-card.  If you don’t like the terms, find another card. Fees may include purchase fees that are charged when you buy a gift card, transaction fees for using the card, fees for checking the balance, and inactivity fees if  the card isn’t used within a specified period of time. Remember that under New York law, there can be no inactivity fee for nonuse of a gift card for the first 12 months. But inactivity fees can be charged after that.
 
Expiration Dates

Check whether the card has an expiration date. Most retail gift cards do not have an expiration date, but most bank gift cards do.  Gift cards with expiration dates may become worthless -- 19 percent of consumers who got gift cards last holiday season still have not used one or more of them.

Lost or Stolen Cards

Find out whether a lost or stolen card can be replaced and at what charge.
 
Give the Receipt Along with the Gift Card

The recipient may need it to seek a replacement if the card is lost or stolen.
 
Online Use

Check whether the card can be used to purchase merchandise online.

Here's what you should consider when using gift cards:

Read the Fine Print

Read the conditions on the card so you won’t have any unpleasant surprises about expiration date, fees or terms of use.
 
Register the Card if Necessary

Some issuers require that you register a gift card in order to obtain a replacement if the card is lost or stolen.
 
Use it Fast

Don’t bury the card in a drawer or in the back of your wallet – use it quickly before it expires or fees start diminishing its value.
 
Hold on Tight

Not all companies will replace lost or stolen gift cards. If your card is missing you will not receive a replacement if the balance on your missing card has already been spent by someone else.

Record the Card Number and Keep the Receipt:  If the issuer does offer to replace a lost or stolen card, you will need to know the card number, and may also need the receipt.
 
Call the Toll-Free Number

If the your card is missing and can be replaced, call the toll-free number as soon as possible. You will not receive a replacement if the balance on your missing card has already been spent by someone else.