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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
The Gift Card Revolution (Part 2): Get the Best Deals, Avoid Fraud, and Set Bad Cards Free

Last week, we reviewed how new regulations regarding gift cards help gift-giving consumers and their recipients keep more of the value of their cards. Knowing the protections available is a great start, but there's more you can do to improve your gift card experience. Today, we'll weigh the relative value of gift card options, protect you from fraud, and review ways to unload unwanted gift cards for a financial (or charitable) benefit.


Those new regulations cushion the impact of the worst offenders, putting a buffer between consumers and those annoying fees and expiration dates. But that doesn't mean all cards of the same denomination have the same value. To borrow from George Orwell, some gift cards are more equal than others.

Bankrate.com studied and ranked 54 of the most popular gift cards on features ranging from existence and types of expiration dates and fees to the availability of online balance checking and free shipping.

In this study, Bankrate examined 46 retailer cards for mass retailers (from Target and Walmart to Macy's and Nordstrom), restaurants (ranging from McDonald's and Taco Bell to the more upscale Bonefish Grill and Maggiano's), clothiers (like Old Navy and The Gap), and specialty merchants (like bookstores, spas, office suppliers and home improvement stores). Bankrate also reviewed eight network-branded (Visa, Discover, MasterCard and American Express) cards.

Bankrate found, as we discussed last week, that most Closed Loop (i.e., retailer) cards have few fees and don't expire. Most Open Loop (network branded) cards, however, generally come with fees at the time of purchase as well as more fees after purchase, such as inactivity and administrative fees. The eight Open Loop cards Bankrate surveyed all charged purchase fees at the point of sale, and all but two had expiration dates.

So, while your recipient will have a wider array of purchase options if you give a Visa or American Express gift card, it's going to increase your up-front costs and decrease the actual gift value for slow-pokier recipients. Thus, if you have any familiarity at all with your recipients' tastes, Paper Doll advises selecting a retailer card instead of a network-branded card. If you're truly worried that you can't identify their preferences, opt for a card at a store that offers a wide array of goodies, like Target or Kohl's, to maximize the bang for your buck.

It's worth reviewing Bankrate's list of cards before setting out on your next gift card shopping spree.

ScripSmart is an online service that helps members keep track of the expiration dates of their gifts cards, "nags" them to make use of the cards they've registered, and alerts them if their cards are in danger due to issuers' impending insolvency.

ScripSmart also reviews and scores gift cards based on 30 specific features and policies. "Great" cards fall in the 80-100 range -- sort of an honor roll of gift cards, while "Average" cards sit in the 60-79 range and "Buyer Beware" cards fall below 60.

ScripSmart recently posted a list of gift cards to avoid. (You weren't really going to buy anyone a Rite-Aid gift card for the holidays, though, were you?)

Remember last week's quiz regarding the most highly regarded organizing-related gift card? Coming in on top of ScripSmart's list of best gift cards, with a score of 99%, is a favorite "Big Box" shrine to organization, The Container Store.


Sure, web sites like ScripSmart are great for alerting consumers to perilous gift card purchases, but readers, please, use your common sense. As Circuit City, KB Toys and The Bombay Company gift card holders learned a few years ago, when a retailer goes belly-up, gift cards become entirely worthless. The CARD Act has no provisions to protect consumers from retailer insolvency, and companies don't have to sequester funds to refund unusable gift cards. So, don't buy gift cards from retailers whose looming bankruptcies make the nightly news.


Consumer watchdogs note that fraudsters often copy the numbers off pre-loaded gift cards and use them to make online purchases. Then, when consumers eventually purchase those cards and go to redeem them, they find the balances are reduced or at zero. Paper Doll cautions readers to purchase gift cards that are loaded with funds at the time of purchase.


Yes, the point of giving someone a gift card is to solve the problem of what to give the person who has everything, wants nothing, or is too picky to enjoy whatever you might select. But as a recipient, you may not have everything, may want something, and may not be (all that) picky, but might still receive gift cards for stores or service providers that just don't fit your personal style. Some cards, if you'll pardon the this week's inevitable theme, are turkeys!

So what can you do?

Well, you could re-gift a card. It's much easier to re-gift a gift card than other unwanted gifts, as they're less likely to collect dust and their box edges aren't apt to get dented when shuffled around the house. But maybe nobody in your circle really wants a gift card to Yarn Emporium or Guns & Groceries. Maybe all your friends are organic-only vegetarians and you'd like to unload a gift card for Omaha Steaks. Then what?

You could sell gift cards using the same venues you'd use to get rid of other gifts that don't fit your style: eBay, Craig's List, or even offer it up to the highest bidder on your favorite social networking site (provided the gift-giver isn't isn't apt to get wise and un-friend you). You can also donate gift cards to charities or even individuals.

Paper Doll thinks a better alternative (other than charitable donations) is to find a gift card exchange site that will purchase your gift cards for a large percentage of the face value and act as a middle-man to broker your card to buyers. For most of these sites, sellers merely type in the retailer and dollar amount and an offer price pops up instantly. Some sites to consider:

PlasticJungle.com is a popular trading post, enabling consumers to buy, sell, trade and donate new and partially used gift cards. Plastic Jungle is best known as a resource for quickly selling unwanted gift cards at 65% to 92% of the verified card balance, depending on how sought-after a particular merchant's card might be.

Plastic Jungle doesn't purchase all gift cards -- the face value must be at least $25, and the company deals in only a few hundred popular cards, including Best Buy, Land's End, Macy's and AMC Theaters. However, you can sell a card even if it doesn't bear the full face value. So, if you have a $50 card with $35 left, once Plastic Jungle verifies the balance, you'll get your hefty cut. Also, sellers are given the option to donate some or all of the sale proceeds to any non-profit.

Plastic Jungle resells gift cards at a 10-16% discount off the card's face value, and you can set up a wish list to be notified when a particular gift card becomes available. All transactions are guaranteed.

GiftCardRescue gives you three options: sell your gift cards for cash and receive 60-85% of the face value, exchange unwanted cards for Amazon gift card credits 5% higher than the amount you'd receive in cash, or buy gift cards, discounted 10-30%. A $25 card I tested, one produced before the new regulations kicked in, with about 10 months remaining before expiration, could earn me $17.50 in cash or $18.37 in Amazon credit.

GiftCardRescue buys the cards of approximately 300 merchants. Select the merchant from a drop-down box, enter the value and expiration date (if there is one), and get an offer quote. To sell, register for an account, arrange to receive your check, and mail your gift card. It's that simple. GiftCardRescue mails payment within two days of receipt of cards. Transactions are 100% guaranteed.

Cardpool purchases gift cards at up to 92% of the face value, sells them at discounts of up to 30% off, and promises payments for sold cards will be sent within 24 hours of receipt. Like Plastic Jungle, you can donate proceeds of your sale to charity; however, Cardpool offers only two non-profit options: Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation or City of Dreams.

Cardpool differs from its competitors in a few ways. First, Cardpool only purchases and sells cards without expiration dates or associated fees. This means you need not worry about comparing cards based on any feature except the products and services your recipient can purchase.

However, unlike many of the other sites, while Carpool guarantees purchases up to $1000, transactions are only guaranteed for 100 days. Paper Doll is concerned that given how often people forget about their gift cards for months on end (an experience next week's post is designed to help ameliorate), a mere one hundred days is not enough time for some recipients to realize there's a problem, notify you and achieve a resolution.

Swapagift.com has a slightly different approach for buying consumers' unwanted cards. If:

  • You have a card on Swapagift's Preferred Merchant list,
  • the balance on a gift card is between $25.00 and $300.00, and
  • the card has no pending expiration,
then Swapagift will purchase the card immediately, for 60, 65 or 70% of the current value, depending on into which Preferred Merchant list category the card falls. You mail the card, and they mail the money. However, if you want cash faster, you can visit one of 600+ Swapagift certified partner locations, usually kiosks inside brick-and-mortar financial services storefronts, like Western Union and check-cashing venues, and they'll pay you the same day.

Swapagift also sells cards at up to a 25% discount via partner site GiftCards.com.

Next week, we'll review the top ten tips for decluttering the gift card experience. We'll look at buying, pricing, giving, organizing and enjoying gift cards -- so you can save money, you and your recipients can save time, and everyone can maximize the value of well chosen clutter-free gift cards. (Paper Doll isn't kidding. There are some serious money-saving tips in next week's post!)

Until then, Paper Doll encourages wise gifting and wishes you a healthy, happy, and safe Thanksgiving.

posted on: 11/23/2010 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Dava Stewart on 11/23/2010 11:19:21 AM:

I wish I'd read this post years ago! When I was a teacher, I received gift cards every year to all sorts of places I never go. Most of them ended up in the trash after riding around in my wallet until they expired. I'm not quite sure why people prefer to give gift cards instead of cash. Maybe I'm just cold and practical and don't mind looking a little crass ;)

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 11/23/2010 11:29:28 AM:

Dava, if you liked this, be sure to tune in next Tuesday! And it's not "cold and practical" but "WARM and practical". :-) As for crass, I'm sure that's in the eye of the beholder, but if we all just walked around exchanging $20 bills, it would seem silly. A gift card is that halfway point between struggling to hand-pick the "perfect" gift and and just saying "let's not, and say we did." ;-)

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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