Gift card survey finds some cards cost more

(MoneyWatch) Thinking about giving a gift card this holiday season? A BankRate.com survey finds that roughly two-thirds of all shoppers give plastic cash to at least one recipient on their gift lists.

The survey finds that while most recipients prefer general purpose gift cards from brands like Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express, because they can be used practically anywhere, the survey advises the gift-buyer to beware. All of these cards charge fees to either purchase or keep them.

That raises the cost, and could diminish the value of your gift if the recipient doesn't spend the funds quickly enough. (Several cards charge "dormancy" fees if the value isn't used up within a year of purchase.)

Merchant-specific cards -- those offered by the likes of Costco and Nordstrom -- don't have those nagging fees. But, of course, you've got to be certain that the recipient wants to buy from the merchant you selected, and that can be tough. The average American family has $300 in unused gift cards sitting in wallets and drawers, according to the gift card exchange site GiftCardGranny.com.

Those factors suggest holiday shoppers might be smarter to simply give cash. However, bargain hunters who want to give gift cards can get some leverage by buying through resell sites like GiftCardGranny, CardPool and Giftcards.com.

Cardpool, for example, was recently advertising Urban Outfitters and Petco gift cards for 20 percent off, Victoria's Secret cards for up to 13 percent off and Macy's cards for nine percent off.

Of course, buying a gift card on one of these sites can cause you to give gifts with odd values -- such as $40.95 (Victoria's Secret) or $32.23 (Toys 'R' Us) -- and could alert the savvy recipient that you bought their card at a discount. But, if your recipient doesn't care, buying used can allow you to give a little more while spending a little less.

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