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Tips for buying, giving and using gift cards

Gift cards are a great solution for those people on your holiday list for whom you don't know what to buy. With gift cards, one size fits all, and the recipients can get exactly what they want. But before you buy a stack of gift cards, consider these tips from the Federal Trade Commission to make sure you get the most for your money.

Buying gift cards
  • Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
  • Read the fine print before you buy. Is there a fee to buy the card? If you buy a card by phone or online, are there shipping and handling fees? If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
  • Find out whether any fees will be deducted from the card after you purchase it.
  • Inspect the card before you buy it. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed. Make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven't been scratched off to reveal a PIN. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.
  • Give the recipient your original receipt so they can verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen.
  • Consider the financial condition of the retailer or restaurant providing the gift card. If you buy a card from a company that files for bankruptcy or goes out of business, the card may be worth less than you had anticipated.
Using gift cards
  • Read the card's terms and conditions carefully. Check for an expiration date or fees.
  • If it appears that the value of your card has expired or that fees have been deducted, contact the company that issued the card. They may still honor the card or reverse the fees.
  • Use your card as soon as you can. It's not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them; using them early will help you get the full value.
Treat your card like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. Most issuers have toll-free telephone numbers you can call to report a lost or stolen card. Some issuers will not replace cards that are lost or stolen and other issuers will for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card.

These tips are provided by the Iowa Bankers Association (IBA), representing banks and thrifts in the state. The IBA serves it members by providing legislative advocacy, training, regulatory compliance and other services designed to enhance the ability of banks to serve their communities.  Learn more at 
What Banking Should Be.