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Got a gift card for Christmas? Here’s how to easily check the balance, protect it and other gift card tips

Got a gift card for Christmas? Here's how to easily check the balance, protect it and other gift card tips

Kelly Tyko

| USA TODAY
Black Friday: Get the most out of your gift cardsEven the most festive cards have an expiration date. Here are three useful tips to get the most out of them.ProblemSolved, USA TODAYYear after year, gift cards continue to be among the most popular holiday gifts and 2020 was no exception.Gift cards were the second most popular gift for 49% of consumers surveyed who said they planned to purchase between three and four gift cards, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual holiday survey.Total holiday spending on gift cards was expected to reach $27.5 billion, the federation said, noting consumers were spending $163 on average.But whether consumers will redeem the plastic cards or digital codes is another matter. According to a Bankrate.com survey, U.S. adults have more than $20 billion in unused gift cards and other credits like airline vouchers.What’s open Christmas Day 2020?: CVS, Starbucks, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven make the list but Walmart is closedNeed to buy a gift card as a last-minute gift?: Here are 50 gift cards people would actually love this yearThe survey found that 25% of adults have let a gift card expire at some point, 22% have lost a gift card and 57% have held onto an unused gift card or store credit for more than a year.While the average value of unused cards and store credits was $167 per person, Bankrate found those with annual incomes of $80,000 or more had the highest average unused value of gift cards compared to $93 for those making under $40,000 and $135 for those making between $40,000 and $80,000.Will your gift card become worthless?The rule of thumb with a gift card? Use it before you lose it.The Federal Trade Commission recommends using the card as soon as you can. It also advises treating gift cards like cash and using them early to get full value.Another good reason to use the cards sooner rather than later: the risk that the retailer or restaurant goes out of business.While gift cards are often accepted after businesses file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, in many cases they quickly become worthless.“I generally tell people if they have gift cards in their wallet, use them yesterday,” Melissa Jacoby, a bankruptcy law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, previously told USA TODAY.According to the CoStar Group, more than 40 major retailers have declared bankruptcy amid the coronavirus pandemic and more than 11,000 stores have been announced for closure in 2020, which beats past store closings records.More closings are expected in 2021. Although J.C. Penney emerged from bankruptcy earlier this month after closing more than 150 stores this year, it is planning to close another 15 locations this spring.Christmas 2020: Here’s the list of stores that are openHere’s a list of who’s open for grub and last-minute goodies Christmas Day 2020.USA TODAYCheck balances of popular gift cardsTo save you from yet another Google search of where to go to check gift card balances, here’s a list of major retailers’ sites, current as of Dec. 24. Another way to check balances is with store apps and some retailers like Target allow you to add gift cards to app wallets.Apple: https://secure.store.apple.com/shop/giftcard/balanceBanana Republic: https://bananarepublic.gap.com/customerService/info.do?cid=61830Barnes & Noble: www.barnesandnoble.com/account/giftcard/checkbalance/Bath & Body Works: www.bathandbodyworks.com/giftcardsBelk: www.belk.com/gift-cards/#gift-card-modalBest Buy: www.bestbuy.com/gift-card-balanceBody Shop: www.thebodyshop.com/en-us/gift-card-balanceDick’s Sporting Goods: www.dickssportinggoods.com/s/gift-cardsDunkin’: www.dunkindonuts.com/en/dd-cards/check-balanceeBay: www.ebay.com/gft/balanceGameStop: www.gamestop.com/giftcards/Gap: www.gap.com/customerService/info.do?cid=2116#J.C. Penney: www.jcpenney.com/cart/giftcardHome Depot: www.homedepot.com/mycheckout/giftcard#/Kohl’s: www.kohls.com/giftcard/gift_card_check_balance.jspKroger: www.kroger.com/checkGiftCardBalanceLowe’s: www.lowes.com/l/gift-card-balance.htmlMacy’s: www.macys.com/account/giftcardbalanceMastercard: https://balance.mastercardgiftcard.com/Nordstrom: www.nordstrom.com/nordstrom-gift-cardsOld Navy: https://oldnavy.gap.com/browse/info.do?cid=35433#giftcardbalancerue21: www.rue21.com/store/jump/static/17800001Sephora: www.sephora.com/beauty/giftcardsShein: https://us.shein.com/giftcard.htmlStarbucks: www.starbucks.com/cardTarget: www.target.com/guest/gift-card-balanceUlta: www.ulta.com/guestservices/giftCards.jspVictoria’s Secret: www.victoriassecret.com/us/vs/gift-cardsVisa: https://usa.visa.com/support/consumer/gift-card-balance.htmlWalmart: www.walmart.com/account/giftcards/balanceZara: www.zara.com/us/en/z-zara-card/balanceCheck Amazon gift card balanceAmazon says you can view your gift card balance in your account. Also when you apply a gift card in an order or add one to “Your Account” for future purchases, the balance will be stored. After you go to your account, select “Gift cards” and view the balance on Amazon.com gift cards.Tips for using gift cardsIf you received a gift card, here are some tips to get the most out of them:The fine print: Read the card’s terms and conditions. Pay close attention to whether the card is redeemable only at a certain store or location.Fees: Some state laws bar service fees and expiration dates on store gift cards, but the rules on cards branded with the name of a credit card company are stricter. These cards cannot expire for at least five years and cannot have a service fee deducted unless it has not been used in 12 months.Bonus cards: It’s holiday gift card promotion season, a time when select restaurants and stores give bonuses with gift card purchases. If you receive a bonus gift card, sometimes called bonus bucks, most of these will expire. Check terms.Protect your card: Some gift cards can be registered as credit cards on websites listed on the card, which can protect them against theft or loss. Also, take photos of the front and back of the card or write down card details as some companies will replace lost or stolen cards if you can provide specifics. Save receipts with card information, too.Unwanted gift cards: If you get an unwanted card, you can sell it for cash or trade for another gift card at sites like Cardpool.com, CardCash.com and Raise.com.Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko

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