Tips for Buying and Using Gift Cards

Buying and using gift cards: what you should know.

MGN Online


  • Read the fine print before you buy. If you don't like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.

  • Ask about expiration dates and fees. The information may appear on the card itself, the accompanying sleeve or envelope, or on the issuer's website or another custom website. If you don't see it, ask for it in writing. Give the information to the recipient to help protect the value of the card. It's also a good idea to give the recipient the original receipt to verify the card's purchase in case it is lost or stolen.

  • Consider purchase fees. Is there a fee to buy or activate the card? If you buy the card online or on the phone, is there a fee for shipping and handling? Does expedited delivery cost more?
    Consider fees for the recipient. It might be embarrassing to give a $50 gift card to someone if the fees significantly reduce its value.

  • Check where and how the card may be used. For example, can the card be used to get cash from ATMs? Can it be used at merchants outside the U.S.?


  • Read the terms and conditions as soon as you get the card and check the expiration date.

  • Record the card's ID number and the customer service telephone number, and keep the information in a safe place until you've spent all of the money on the card.

  • If you didn't get the card's terms and conditions or original receipt, ask for them from the person who gave you the card.

  • Take care to safeguard your card. If it is lost or stolen, report it to the customer service number immediately, supply the ID number, and request a replacement.

  • Spend the value on your card before the maintenance fees start. If your card expires before you've had the chance to exhaust its value, contact the customer service number. It might be possible to extend the date, although you may be charged a fee.

Information Courtesy of:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Action
Federal Citizen Information Center

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