Study: Gift cards become more secure while fees go down

WASHINGTON — Gift cards are already a convenient choice for holiday gifts, and a new study says they’ve become more consumer friendly. says that half of gift cards now offer the ability to set a security code, up from 35 percent last year. That can help protect balances if the card is lost or stolen, and that’s a good thing: Bankrate also says that a quarter of Americans surveyed have lost a gift card before using it up — and 40 percent of millennials.

“With so many recent data breaches and the transition to EMV chip credit cards, security is top of mind for many Americans,” banking analyst Claes Bell says in a statement.

“Retailers are taking note and have made gift cards a much safer way to spend money.”

The survey also says that people 65 and younger prefer to get general-purpose gift cards, such as from Visa or American Express, that can be used anywhere, while older people prefer cards that are linked to a specific store or restaurant.

But the versatility of general-purpose cards comes with a cost: All of the general-purpose cards that Bankrate surveyed charge a fee per purchase ranging from $3.95 to $6.95; only 4 percent of store-specific cards do. Overall, the number of widely held gift cards that charge purchase fees has gone down from 17 percent to 13 percent in the past year.

“Gift card gotchas are much rarer than they used to be,” said Bell. “Everyone should still do their research before making a purchase, but generally, consumers don’t have to worry about being swindled when buying or using a gift card from a major bank or retailer.”

Gift cards are already popular, the survey shows: 76 percent of Americans have given someone a gift card, and 83 percent have received one, Bankrate says.

Bankrate analyzed the terms and conditions of 60 popular gift cards and asked questions of 1,000 adults to get the results of their study. The survey has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

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