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7 Reasons Everyone Should Stop Hating on Gift Cards

Mandi Woodruff
Check the terms of your credit cards before you buy holiday gifts this year. Many cards offer incentives like in-store savings, cash back, and even discounts on gift cards. Alexis Christoforous reports.
Check the terms of your credit cards before you buy holiday gifts this year. Many cards offer incentives like in-store savings, cash back, and even discounts on gift cards. Alexis Christoforous reports.

Say what you will about gift cards — they’re a lazy option, they’re too impersonal, they’re bound to be forgotten in dusty drawers, etc. — but they are still the must-have item on holiday shopping lists this year.

More than 80% of holiday shoppers say they'll buy gift cards this year, spending a collective $29.8 billion on everyone’s favorite love-to-hate-it present, according to the latest data from the National Retail Federation.

Who can blame them? These days, gift cards are as good as giving someone a fat wad of cash — and who doesn’t want that? Gift cards not only take the pressure off the gift-giver to become a seasonal mind-reader but also prevent those awkward moments we’ve all had opening gifts we hate from the people we love.

If you still need some convincing, here are seven reasons gift cards are the main thing you should put under your Christmas tree this year:

1. They're less likely to go to waste than regular gifts.

Opponents of gift cards like to toss around data that shows more than $2 billion worth of unused gift cards are lost or forgotten in American homes each year. They have a point. But here’s another fun fact: Nearly $50 BILLION worth of holiday gifts are returned each year, the vast majority of which are unwanted clothing. Gift cards starting to look a bit better yet?

2. It’s easier than ever to keep track of them.

It’s all too easy for a gift card to slip into a pile of discarded wrapping paper and wind up in a trash bin, or forgotten amidst the detritus of receipts and dry-cleaning tickets already stuffed in our wallets. 

Luckily, there are new solutions to keeping track of gift cards so you never have to leave money on the table. Gyft is a new service that lets you upload your gift card information and redeem the cards either from your computer or smartphone.  And if all you want is easy access to your gift card balances, you can download the GoWallet app, load up your gift card info and know exactly how much cash is left on them at any time.

3. Gift cards aren’t just for the mall anymore.

Thanks to the bevy of businesses that offer gift cards and certificates these days, they’re an easy way to give your cash-strapped loved ones some peace of mind. You can cover everything from gas bills and groceries to student loan debt and a flight home for the holidays. For example, student loan repayment website Tuition.o lets family and friends give up to $500 toward a student's loan balance. There’s no money or physical gift card to worry about getting lost or (accidentally) spent elsewhere either. The site sends the gift directly to the designated lender and shoots the borrower an email to let them know their load just got a little lighter.

4. They’re an excellent way to budget.

If you — like many others this holiday season — are feeling like the Grinch stole your bank account, gift cards can be a simple way to stay on budget. By picking up gift cards, you can breeze through stores without being tempted to make impulse purchases, and you can plan your budget down to the penny. As an added bonus, you can save money by purchasing gift cards secondhand from reputable sites including GiftCardGranny, PlasticJungle, or ABCGiftCards.

5. You’re probably over-thinking your presents, anyway.

We’ve all been there. Your mom or sister asks you what you want for Christmas and when you tell them the truth (cash or a gift card), you’re met with thinly veiled derision. “No, we’re not getting you a gift card, that’s not fun!” they argue. Fun for whom, exactly? New research has shown that, when gift-givers have many people to shop for, they shoot themselves in the foot by trying to “over-individualize” gifts, often ignoring the actual wishes of the recipients in the process. Maybe it’s not “fun” for you to wrap half a dozen gift cards, but the point of gift-giving is to make others happy, right?

6. There's no better last-minute gift out there.

Nearly 90% of holiday shoppers said they still had gifts to buy in early December, according to a recent RetailMeNot survey. Contrary to what Super Saturday fans will tell you, we see no point in trying to dig through the picked-over  aisles at your local mall for last-minute gifts. Go easy on yourself and scoop up a handful of gift cards. There’s no rush delivery fee to worry about and at least you can be sure your gift will be put to good use.

7. Most people really want them.

Last but not least, the thing about gift cards that most people won’t admit is that (psst) most of us really like them! In NRF’s 2012 holiday survey, nearly 60% of respondents said they favor gift cards over other presents.  The people have spoken. (And anyway, think of all the After-Christmas sales they'll be able to hit up!)

Things to watch out for:

Fees: Gift cards are notorious for hidden fees, so keep your eyes peeled for any unexpected charges by reading the terms of agreement closely. Most retailers don’t charge upfront fees, but you’ll find credit lender-backed cards often come with a monthly fee and also start to depreciate in value over time. On top of that, if you purchase a gift card from one of those massive kiosks at the drugstore or grocery store, you might be charged with an activation fee. To know what to expect, check out this helpful guide of gift card fee schedules from Bankrate.

Scams: Many stores put racks of gift cards out in the open and scammers can easily copy down their information and use software to track them online. Once an unwitting shopper purchases the card and activates it, the thief will simply beat them to the punch and go on a shopping spree of their own first. “Be suspicious of and avoid buying any gift cards that are in packaging which appears to be tampered with,” says Rip Mason, LegalShield CEO. “If a retail outlet keeps its gift cards out in the open and not in any packaging, ask the clerk or manager if they have any gift cards behind the counter or in the back of the store.”