Many of you probably received gift cards this holiday season. Gift cards can be great, or they can be a problem. A few rules will help you to maximize their usage without losing the value (or losing the card!)
- Designate a certain place to keep all your gift cards. This sounds so easy, yet it eludes most people. Including me, sometimes. We have a small tin where we keep gift cards, school lunch tickets, and stamps - basically anything that has monetary value. I still manage to find gift cards floating around the house, though. The quickest way to waste a gift card is to lose it.
- Keep track of your balances. A post-it note on the back is good, or you can keep the latest receipt with the card. This is especially important for Visa and Mastercard gift cards because sometimes you need to know the balance on it if you want to use the entire remainder in a single transaction.
- If you register your gift card online or on the telephone, write down your access information and keep it someplace that you will remember. Maybe in the same place that you keep the card, maybe on the card, maybe in your checkbook. As I said before, it can sometimes be hard to use the card if you don't know the balance, and if you discover that your notes are wrong, well...I've wasted a lot of time dealing with this and I don't have good memories of it!
- Learn the rules for the type of card that you have. Store and restaurant cards have newer protections that mean that you can use them for up to five years, but those rules don't apply to reward or rebate cards. The Visa card you get with the points earned on your credit card? Not covered.
- Just because the card's expiration date has passed, you may not have lost the value. Call the card company and ask them to send you a new card or give you a cash refund. It is certainly worth a try and in many cases, it will work.
- Absolutely certain that you won't use your gift card? Consider selling or swapping it. You can use Craigslist or eBay and earn a little more, or take advantage of the protections of brokers like Cardpool, ABC Gift Cards, Gift Card Castle, Gift Cards.com, or Plastic Jungle.
- Most importantly, just use them. They're not going to gain value by sitting in your drawer. The giver wants you to use it, and it will make your life less complicated. No more worries about companies going out of business, no figuring out if you've been assessed a dormancy fee.