Gift Cards

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Father’s Day is June 17. What will you get Dad? A tie or a dress shirt? Apps for his iPad, tunes for his iPod? How about letting him buy whatever he wants, by giving him a gift card?

Gift cards come with different logos and denominations, but there are two main types: Retail and bank-issued.

Retail cards can only be redeemed at the business or restaurant that issued them. Some are further restricted by being valid only at the particular store location where you buy them, or only at participating franchises. If you’re not sure what restrictions apply, ask at the store or check the business’s web site.

Bank-issued cards from companies such as MasterCard or Discover can be redeemed at any merchant that accepts the underlying credit card.

Thanks to a federal law known as the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (CARD Act), Dad doesn’t have to worry about hurrying to spend your gift. Neither type of gift card can expire earlier than five years from when you buy it. Additional money you (or Dad) put on the card after you purchase it is also protected for five years. In some states, cards can never expire.

One caution: Cards you receive as part of a promotion may still legally have expiration dates. Of course, that won’t apply to the one you plan to tuck into a Father’s Day card and hand to Dad.

When you’re deciding which card to buy, be sure to read the small print on the back to learn about fees. Some cards charge upfront for activation, and some assess inactivity fees after twelve months of non-use. You want to make sure Dad can redeem all of your gift.

Finally, whatever card you buy, give your dad the purchase receipt in case he has any problems when he tries to redeem your gift. Remember, gift cards are the same as cash, and are subject to theft and scams. While some retailers will replace a lost or stolen card, others are not so accommodating.

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