Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

Hidden Fees of Gift Cards


Before you give one, know what you're giving.

You buy your sister a $100 general-purpose gift card. It's for her birthday, but it might be the bank that has reason to celebrate.

Despite your good intentions, such gift cards often come with a tangle of fine print and fees that can ensnare unsuspecting recipients. Your sister might not realize that a $3 monthly inactivity fee kicks in after a year. Or it could annoy her that it costs $12 to replace a lost card.
While the new credit card law passed this year includes some regulations for gift cards, it doesn't eliminate many of the fees they often come with.

So before you start loading up on gift cards for the holidays, be sure you know the pitfalls.

(Editor's Note: See, Can My Credit Card Company Do That? and The Top Ten Holiday-Shopping Trends.)

The Basics

There are two types of gift cards -- store cards and general-purpose bank cards. The latter are Visa, MasterCard (MA), or American Express (AXP) branded cards that you can use wherever those credit cards are accepted. These are the cards that often come with a mess of fees and terms.

Unlike with gift cards to specific stores, there are usually fees to buy general-purpose gift cards. Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) cards cost $3.50 a piece. American Express cards cost between $2.95 and $6.95, depending on the value of the card.

The cards can't be reloaded, and don't come with the same protections as credit or debit cards. So you can't dispute a purchase or issue a "stop payment."

Running Meter

Once a general-purpose bank card is purchased, the clock on the expiration date starts ticking.

At Wells Fargo, gift cards typically expire four years after the card is purchased. You can request a check for the remaining balance if you don't use up the card before then, but that will cost you $15. So if the balance on your card is less than that, you're out of luck.

The card's value could disappear even before the expiration date as a result of dormancy fees. Chase and Wells Fargo both start deducting $2.50 a month from cards after a year. So if left unused, a monthly fee could eventually deplete a card's value. Some cards start charging monthly fees as early as six months after purchase, according to the Consumer Federation of America, which is based in Washington, DC.

It should be noted that American Express recently did away with the $2 dormancy fee on its gift cards. The cards also don't have expiration dates, and replacements for lost or stolen cards are free. The drawback is that American Express cards aren't as widely accepted as Visa and MasterCard.
< Previous
No positions in stocks mentioned.

The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Featured Videos