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'Hidden' Holiday Gift Card Fees

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- While the hottest holiday toys may be a matter of opinion, there is one item all holiday shoppers are likely to overload their shopping carts with come Black Friday: gift cards.

Last year was the fourth in a row that those little pieces of plastic ranked as the most-requested holiday present, with total gift card spending estimated to come in around $24.8 billion. But while gift cards are in demand and undoubtedly convenient, there are a few things consumers should know before buying one.

As consumers get ready for holiday shopping, there are "hidden" gift card fees you should be aware of.

For starters, thanks to the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, gift cards may not expire for at least five years after purchase. Any money added to a gift card may not expire for at least five years after they are loaded with cash.

Moreover, consumers can request replacement cards should five years elapse and there may still be funds left on the card.

But even with these reforms in place, there are some fees gift cards can carry. Here, according to the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, are the ones to look out for and what restrictions apply to each:

  • Purchase fees may be charged when you buy a gift card, in addition to the money you pay to load on the card.
  • Inactivity, dormancy or service fees may apply only if there has been no activity on the card for at least one year. By law, only one dormancy, inactivity or service fee may be imposed in any calendar month.
  • Transaction fees for using the card may be for all transactions, for a large number of them or only certain types, such as ATM withdrawals.
  • Miscellaneous fees include those for balance inquiries, adding funds to the card, replacing a lost or stolen card or other services related to the card.

Keep in mind that some retailers don't charge fees, so you'll want to ask upfront which ones may or may not be incurred. Alternatively, you can just review the disclosure form, which must be provided by gift card issuers at the point of purchase before selecting which ones to buy.

The OCC also suggests consumers call the toll-free telephone number or visit the Web site listed on the gift card if at any point they become confused about the terms and conditions associated with the offer.

Which retailers do consumers like to get gift cards from the most? Find out in our roundup of the best holiday gift cards.

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