NEW YORK (MainStreet) Gift cards are becoming a top item on many people's wish lists and are no longer just an option for the difficult. About 43% of Americans prefer receiving a gift card while 42% prefer giving gift cards, according to a new study.
"Gift cards present an easy way to gift without worrying about size or taste," said Leslie Tayne, attorney with the Tayne Law Group. "Always make sure you purchase them at the retailer the card is valid for instead of purchasing them at a drugstore, which might require an activation fee or other fees."
MasterCard's 2013 Holiday Survey found that 30% of consumers said gift cards are popular due to the stress of shopping compared to 23% who cited holiday budgeting.
"Prepaid gift cards are offered in a wide variety of designs and some even allow consumers to personalize the card with photos, messages and the recipient's name, making them a gift and a keepsake," said Sarah Ely, vice president with MasterCard Worldwide.
The most common value of gift cards both given and received is between $25 and $50, according to Bankrate.
Out of 55 brand-specific cards that include retailers, restaurants, airlines and gas stations, only three charge a purchase fee to all customers while three others charge a purchase fee in some instances. General-purpose cards, such as American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa, all charge purchase fees.
"While most Americans prefer to receive general-purpose gift cards because they can be used almost anywhere, they should be aware of the fees these cards charge both purchasers and recipients," said Janna Herron, credit card analyst with Bankrate.com.
Nearly $90 billion in gift cards are gifted each year and about $8 billion go unused each year with more than 23 million consumers still having gift cards left over from last year, according to CardCash.com.
"Most general purpose gift cards have expiration dates and non-usage fees but brand specific cards can be sold for cash," said Jeremy Levi, director of marketing with CardCash.com, which purchases unused gift cards.
Online deal sites have also become popular methods of gifting activities, such as cooking class, painting class, tarot card reading, massage, eye exam or gym membership.
"Gifts are more meaningful when it's tailored to the recipient so deal sites like Groupon, Restaurant.com, LivingSocial, Lifebooker and others allow you to find experiences that you know the recipient will enjoy and appreciate for a lifetime," said Landy Ung, CEO of 8coupons.com, a website that aggregates eight deals based on zipcode.
Vouchers from online deal sites have their red tape, including taxes and expiry dates.
"In some cases, you may pay tax but that is usually the only costs incurred," Tayne told MainStreet. "Make sure the recipient is aware of the expiration date so they can use it before it expires."
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet