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Making Gift Cards Pay

Gift cards are a great solution for anyone who's tough to buy for. Why not get him or her a gift card, and have them pick out their own presents?

Christine Frietchen, Editor in Chief of the product review Web site ConsumerSearch.com, had great thoughts on how to use gift cards wisely, on The Early Show Friday.

She says the most important thing to remember is -- USE THEM FAST. But some 25 percent of people who received cards in 2007 haven't spent them yet!

Each year, $8 billion dollars in gift cards go unused. That's great for retailers, but not for recipients. And that's made worse in this economy because of the number of stores closing up shop before people can redeem their cards for those stores. That's cost consumers $100 million this year.

Frietchen's advice:

Research What You Want

Have a game plan when you walk into the store that your gift card comes from. Take a look at consumer Web sites, such as mine, and do some hard research on the positives and negatives of what you want to buy.

Check the Terms of Your Gift Card

Often, gift cards have restrictions on them. For instance, some must be used in six months. Some credit card gift cards (for instance, Amex, Discover, etc.) have fees and expirations. Some start charging you a "maintenance fee" if you haven't used your card within a year, often, $2 A MONTH after 12 months. Most gift cards expire -- typically after two years.

Use Your Gift Card ASAP (mo matter what the financial status of the store)

People with Sharper Image and Linens 'n Things gift cards were stuck with worthless cards. Right now, Circuit City, which is in bankruptcy, has been honoring cards, but that can change any day. Even for stores NOT on the brink, use that card ASAP. If not, it could turn into wasted money.

When You Get The Card, Put a Reminder in Your Calendar Six Months Out

If you don't plan to use the card within a couple of weeks, mark the six-month period in your calendar to remind you to use it. If you don't pay attention to expiration dates, you might lose use of the card.

If You Can't Find Something You Want in the Store, Check Online

Most gift cards can be used online as well as at brick and mortar store. Also, when you shop online, you avoid all the lines, and often, the selection is better. If the store doesn't inspire you, check the Internet.

Other Things You Can Do With Your Card:

  • Trade it

    Some Web sites allow you to swap cards with others, with only a small listing price (say about ($2 per card). Also, you can try listing your card on Craigslist, or listing it on an auction site such as eBay.

  • Sell it

    If you're going to sell your card, please keep in mind you will lose value on the total. But if you really want the cash, there are sites that will buy your card for 60 to 80 percent of it's value, depending on the store.

  • Donate it

    There are many charities, including the Make-a-Wish Foundation, that will accept unused gift cards as donations. Check your favorite not-for-profit and see if it does.

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