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ICBA Offers Tips for Using Bank-Issued Gift Cards

 Washington, D.C. (December 1, 2010)-Gift cards remain one of the most popular items for the holiday season, and Americans are expected to spend billions on gift cards again this year.  The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) today issued tips to help consumers buy and use branded gift cards-those cards that carry the MasterCard and Visa logo, as well as other major general purpose gift card brands that are accepted by many merchants.

"Now, more than ever, people really appreciate receiving gifts they can use," said Jim MacPhee, ICBA chairman and CEO of Kalamazoo County State Bank, Kalamazoo, Mich.  "Branded gift cards are a thoughtful and practical option because they are being accepted by an increasing number of merchants.  But with these cards-as with any credit or debit card-community bankers want our customers to have the information they need to use them wisely and avoid fraud."

Branded gift cards look like a credit card, but are limited by the dollar amount loaded on the card by the purchaser and should be treated as cash. They differ from retail gift cards, which are issued by and accepted solely at the issuing retailer.

ICBA reminds consumers how important it is to know the facts when buying or using branded gift cards. Some tips include:

  • Know the card's terms and conditions, as they may vary. For example, there may be fees for dormancy, transaction, inactivity, ATM, balance inquiry or reloading. These fees and other terms and conditions are usually printed on the card.
  • Some cards have an expiration date that may appear on the card itself, on the card's sleeve, at the retailer's or bank's location or on the issuer's website.
  • Keep the card's account number and original packaging, which includes the customer service number, in a safe place.  You may need this information should your card become lost or stolen or there is a need to obtain a replacement card.
  • Sign the card in the space provided.
  • Whenever possible, register your card online.  This will help if you have any service issues.       
  • Before using the card, know your balance. Most issuers offer toll-free voice response systems where you can check your balance. Some banks allow you to check the balance by entering the card number on the bank's website.
  • Funds are immediately deducted from the available card balance when you make a purchase.
  • Most major retailers accept split payments.  You can pay with the gift card and pay the balance of a purchase using another form of payment. But you have to tell the merchant the exact amount you want deducted from your gift card.
  • It's a good idea to keep gift cards after the card balance has been used. You may need to show the card should you make a return or an exchange.
  • When using a gift card at service locations, such as restaurants, be sure you have the available balance to cover incidentals and tips.
  • When using a gift card at a gas pump or any automated self-service terminal, be sure there are enough funds to cover the entire purchase. Even if the card is short by only a few dollars, the transaction may not be approved.

"Community bankers work throughout the year to offer our customers the products and services they want and the information they need to safeguard their finances.  We want to be especially sure during the holiday season that our customers who receive a branded gift card know how to protect it and themselves and enjoy the full value of their gift," MacPhee said.

Community banks offer branded gift cards at their local branches and online, often at lower rates and with more easily accessible information than is available on cards from other institutions. Learn more about gift cards by visiting your local community bank.

For more information, visit http://www.icba.org/