Women, Wealth and Wisdom: Getting smart about gift cards

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Gift cards are a quick and easy option, especially for those hard to shop for people on your list. But if you aren't a smart shopper you may not get your money's worth.

Where can this card be used?

1). Single stores or sister stores could be included. Department store cards have limitations on where they can be used.

One store vs a bank-backed card?

Is it a true 'gift card'?

2). Purchase a "true" gift card in lieu of a reloadable card. Reloadable cards may require personal information (like SSN or bank account numbers) that you may not want to disclose just for a gift card. Make sure you read the fine print, steer clear of the word reloadable and instead look for the word gift.

What are the fees?

3). With a retailer gift card, all of the money you spend goes onto the card but bank branded cards typically charge fees that range from $2.95 - $5.95 at time of purchase. Under the new rules, you should also know ... Gift cards can not expire prior to 5 years from purchase.

Is this a reliable seller?

4). But be wary of buying cards at online flea market sites or from suspicious websites ... do your due diligence to make sure you know who you're buying from. And avoid HUGE discounts like a $500 for 80 bucks ... if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

What happens if the card is lost or stolen? ... It used to be like cash ... if you lost it, it was gone forever but now things have changed.

5). Gift cards now offer lost card protection as long as you have your receipt to shoe proof of purchase. Replacement cards up to remaining balance. It's a good idea to ask about policies on stolen or replaced cards, particularly if you're buying from a small or local retailer.

Can I get the card for free?

6). You may be able to get "Free" gift cards using your credit card frequent flier/reward programs: Rewards and loyalty programs will often let you cash in points or miles for gift cards -- bank-branded and from a variety of retailers and restaurants.

You can also go to PlasticJungle.com and sell your old, unused gift cards for up to 92 percent of the face value. Then you can either trade them for new cards or use the money to buy the cards you want.

Can I personalize the gift?

7). Be creative in decorating your gift card packaging like hanging the gift card envelope around the neck of a good bottle of wine. Or, as you're buying the card, pick up a few supplies to create a small gift basket. you can also tuck it in a package of homemade cookies or brownies. Some vendors or loyalty programs will allow you to choose from a selection of holiday designs or greetings. Others also let you upload photos that are printed directly on the card.

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