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ICBA Offers Tips on Bank-Issued Gift Cards

Popularity of Branded Gift Cards Requires Consumers to Know the Facts

Washington, D.C. (November 20, 2007)—With the holiday gift-giving season upon us, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) offers consumers tips about using branded gift cards.

"By some estimates, as many as 28 percent of holiday shoppers plan on giving branded gift cards this year," said James P. Ghiglieri, Jr., ICBA chairman and president of Alpha Financial Group, Inc., Toluca, Ill. "They have practically become a way of life as a staple holiday gift for people of all ages, particularly when you consider that the cards are accepted by many merchants."

Community banks offer branded gift cards at their local branches and online. Branded gift cards carry the MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover logo and differ from retail gift cards which are issued by and accepted solely at the issuing retailer. The value of branded prepaid gift card transactions is estimated to be $32 billion in 2007 rising to $79 billion by 2010*.

As branded gift cards increase in popularity, ICBA reminds consumers how important it is to know the facts about them. Branded gift cards look like a credit card, are limited by the dollar amount loaded on the card by the purchaser and should be treated as cash. Some tips:

  • Know the card's terms and conditions — they vary and generally are listed on the card, the card jacket or a separate sheet accompanying the card.

  • Some cards have an expiration date which may appear on the card itself, on the card's sleeve or on the issuer's web site.

  • Keep the card's account number and customer service number in a safe place. You may need this information should your card become lost or stolen.

  • Sign the card in the space provided.

  • 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 bank issued gift card and pay the balance of a purchase with another form of payment. But you have to tell the merchant the exact amount you want deducted from your branded 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.

  • There may be fees for maintaining the account beyond a certain time period. Gift card inactivity fees are usually printed on the back of the card or in an attached terms and conditions document.

  • Be sure you have the available balance to cover incidentals and tips of 15 percent to 20 percent when using a gift card at service locations such as restaurants, hotels and rental agencies.

Learn more about gift cards by visiting your local community bank.

* Boston-based consultants Aite' Group provided gift card estimates.