WASHINGTON - Shopping for gift cards for friends and family this year?
You're not alone. Gift cards are growing in popularity and 80 percent of holiday shoppers are expected to buy the cards either from a bank, credit card company or retailer.
But U.S. News and World Report says that not all cards are alike. Some may carry maintenance fees, administration fees and even expiration dates.
Retailers typically don't charge fees or set expiration dates on their cards. But cards issued by banks or credit card companies are more likely to charge shoppers a $3 to $7 purchase fee. These companies also might charge a maintenance fee if the card hasn't been used in a year, says Kimberly Palmer, a reporter for U.S. News and World Report.
She says recipients need to read the fine print so they get the most out of their gifted cards. And that includes registering the cards online. If the card is lost or stolen, many retailers will replace it or reimburse customers, she says.
"Cards have become more consumer-friendly. They are easier to use," Palmer says, in large part because the 2009 Credit Card Act made it more difficult for retailers and credit card companies to charge fees.
Palmer says Starbucks gift cards are leading the pack in both sales and technology.
The coffee giant allows users to upload the cards to a smart phone so customers can keep track of how much is left on the card. And you don't have to worry about carrying the card, Palmer says.
She expects more retailers to offer such mobile gift cards over the next two years.
"A lot of experts in the field thought we'd see that more this year. It hasn't really taken off for this holiday season. But that's what we are expecting to see over the next year or two as more people use smart phones. It makes it more convenient if you can just upload it to your phone," Palmer says.
Read Palmer's full report here.
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)