Tips for gift card use and shopping

WASHINGTON – Did you get a gift card this Christmas?

They can be great: one size fits all and you get the excitement of selecting something you really want — or need. But there are a few ground rules to keep in mind.

  • You have up to four years to redeem your store-specific gift card in Maryland. Federal law gives you another year, but fees may kick in during the fifth and final year.
  • Gift cards issued by banks that are processed through American Express, Visa or Master Card can carry fees that are deducted once a month if you run past the five-year limit. Sitting on that card can take a big bite out of its value.
  • Check to see what happens if there’s money left on the card after you select your gift. You may be able to get cash for the remaining value, but you might have to use the balance toward another purchase.
  • Treat the gift card like cash. After all, stores do. If it’s lost or stolen, you won’t have any recourse, and the thief will have a shopping spree — on you.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Protection has more tips for gift cards on its website.

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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