So it's no surprise that gift cards are among the most popular holiday presents, according to the National Retail Federation.
They're easy to give and give getters plenty of leeway in what they use the cards for.
But, points out CBS News Business and Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, in many cases, gift cards are "use them or lose them," and there could be many other restrictions to keep in mind.
On "The Early Show," Jarvis ran down the ins and outs of gift cards to help you get the most out of them if you're on the receiving end!:
A gift card is a good gift, because the person can choose his or her own gift and givers don't have to worry about whether the recipient likes what the giver picks out. If you give something around the holidays, the recipient can wait and may be able to get a better deal when the holidays are over. Gift cards are convenient for the buyer. And due to gift card regulations that came into effect in late August, gift cards can't expire for at least five years.
The most popular kinds of gift cards are those from restaurants, department stores, bookstores and electronics stores, the NRF says.
But make sure you buy from a reputable store, one that has no chance of going out of business.
If you choose to buy one from American Express, MasterCard or Visa, it can be used at many places, but those cards have the most restrictions. The NRF says that, while those cards offer convenience because they can be redeemed at a variety of places, they're the most likely to expire or include maintenance, activation or dormancy fees. In its gift card tips, the NRF encourages shoppers to understand the difference between store-issued and bank-issued gift cards and use that information before deciding what type of gift card to buy.
Check the small print on the cards. The new rules call for FULL DISCLOSURE of fees and expiration dates ON THE CARD.
But the bottom line is that gift cards were never meant to be savings products. You need to use them or risk their running out.
Use your gift card, don't save it. Because retailers are not allowed to count a gift card until it's redeemed, companies will be enticing consumers to redeem them by holding special sales after Christmas and stocking shelves with new merchandise in January to give shoppers more of a selection.
In many states, gift cards that go unused or unredeemed for more than a few years are treated as "abandoned" property. In those states, sometimes in as little as two years, retailers are required to turn over unused gift card dollars to state governments under the guise of returning the "abandoned" money to the gift card purchaser. States make millions of dollars a year from those clauses. Consumers are encouraged to spend their gift cards within the first year of purchase so that they, and not the state where the gift card holder lives, gets their full value.
Keep your receipt. Some retailers are able to reissue a lost gift card if consumers provide the original purchase receipt.
NEW GIFT CARD RULES
* An inactivity fee cannot be charged until the card has not been used for 12 months.
* Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years.
* No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month.
* Information printed on the card must disclose fees and expiration date and provide a toll-free phone number or website where you can get more information.
* A one-time fee can be charged when you buy the card.
*Expiration Dates: Gift cards purchased Aug. 22 or after must hold their value five years. Each time you reload your card, the five-year clock starts on the amount you add. (Physical card can have an expiration date, but not your money. So if your card expires before 5 years and there's still money left on it, call the card company and ask them to transfer your money to a new card. They must do this for free or return the remaining balance.)
*Inactivity Fees: Companies are prohibited from charging nonuse fees unless -- and this is a big exception -- you failed to use the card for 12 months
*One fee per month: No more than one fee (of any kind) can be charged to the cardholder in a single month, BUT NO LIMITS ON HOW MUCH THAT ONE FEE CAN BE.
Is it better to buy cards online or in a store? If you buy online you can customize your cards -- personalize them for an event, birthday, graduation, but sometimes those cards are available in stores, as well. For instance, Visa Happy Birthday cards.
You can trade in un-used cards.
There are two websites that can help you with that: SwapAGift.com and Cardpool.com.
Quoting from the sites themselves:
Cardpool connects millions of gift card holders creating a marketplace where they can buy, sell or trade gift cards safely and securely. Cardpool offers a wide variety of gift cards from more than 200 top retailers like Banana Republic, Best Buy and Macy's for discounts of up to 30%. The best part? Shoppers can even trade in their unused and unwanted gift cards for new ones and Cardpool will ship all gift cards for free.
Cardpool is a service that lets you buy gift cards for up to 30 percent off or sell unwanted gift cards for cash. All orders and transactions include FREE SHIPPING and are covered by our extensive Purchase Guarantee Program.
Cardpool connects the millions of gift card holders around the world to create a marketplace where customers can buy, sell, or trade their gift cards safely and securely. By gathering all the buyers and sellers in one place, Cardpool helps everyone get exactly what they want, whether it's a discounted gift card or simply cash.
You are always buying directly from us and selling directly to us. Cardpool buys our gift cards directly from our customers, verifies the authenticity and balance of each gift card, and holds on to them until a buyer is found. Even though we may never find a buyer for a given gift card, we pay sellers within 24 hours of receiving their gift card.
Swapagift is the leading online gift card liquidation service; and the only company offering a certified program where financial service organizations can participate in the $10 billion secondary gift card market. Our goal is to provide the one service gift card merchants won't - an opportunity to exchange unwanted gift cards for cash
Along with our sister company, GiftCards.com, we offer our vast inventory of discounted gift cards to value-driven consumers. Swapagift.com and GiftCards.com are the answer to those unwanted gift cards that are collecting dust in your dresser or going unused in your wallet.
Interested in selling your gift cards for cash right now - without waiting?
As long as the balance on your gift card is between $25.00 and $300.00 (without a pending expiration), and the card merchant appears in the Preferred Merchant list (see below), we'll buy it RIGHT NOW! Swapagift will pay you a percentage of the card balance, based on the Preferred Merchant's list, no questions asked. Limit $300.00 per customer household.
How can we offer to do this when the gift card merchants won't? Simple. We're confident we'll be able to find a buyer for your card at swapagift.com - so confident, that we'll put our money where our mouth is.