Clark Howard: Tips for how to get the most out of your gift cards

DAYTON — With the holiday shopping season in full swing, that means many of you are probably buying gift cards. Consumer Advisor Clark Howard breaks down his gift card game plan on where to buy them and how to get the most out of your money.

Howard said his rule is not to buy gift cards, but we buy them anyway.

Consumers are expected to spend more than $1 trillion between October and December this year, according to the International Council of Shopping Center. More than 50% of that spending will be on gift cards.

>> RELATED: Nearly half of all Americans surveyed have unused gift cards

Sally McDonald is the Managing Editor at Clark.com and she says where you buy gift cards is key. “Gift cards can limit where you spend that gift and retailers often can go out of business, she said.

“There can be a lot of scams out there online, especially online marketplaces,” McDonald said.

Howard said if you are going to shop online, choose a retailer with a money-back guarantee.

“For example, Card Cash has a 45-day guarantee so that if the gift card is somehow empty then you are very low risk,” McDonald said. “If you are going to purchase a card at a retailer in person, make sure you check the back to make sure the PIN hasn’t been scratched off.”

Howard said when it comes to the stretching of your holiday budget, look for cards that offer bonus money.

“At Like a warehouse club you can sometimes get a gift card for $100 but it’s worth $125 of funds,” McDonald said.

And, before you click or swipe to buy anything, look around the house. Earlier this year a Bankrate survey found Americans are sitting on just over $21 billion in unused gift cards.

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Bankrate Analyst Ted Rossman said, “You run the risk of losing value or just paying out of pocket for things that otherwise could have been free,”

And don’t assume old gift cards are expired. “Gift cards can’t expire for at least five years, although they can charge inactivity fees after 12 months of nonuse,” Rossman said.

Clark said these gift cards don’t get better with time. Even if you have five years to use them, use them right away or sell them right away, get that cash back in your pocket.

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