It’s seems a great gift, but sometimes it becomes a holiday horror show that would delight the Grinch.

The gift card, the most popular holiday gift, can either be a thoughtful present or a waste of money. It can be a waste of money that benefits no one save the seller, who sometimes gets your money but provides nothing.


The Thoughtless Gift?

Holiday gift cards are sometimes given with little thought of if the recipient will actually use them.

“Be sure that the person you are giving the card to is really interested in it,” says Bill Hardekopf, the founder of

For instance, Hardekopf is mashed on fantasy baseball and would love a gift card related to that, but he isn’t crazy about chairs. “It would be a waste if someone gave me a gift card for a furniture store,” he says.

Another person with good intentions made a bad gift card choice.

“He gave someone a gift card for $50 at Tiffany’s. What can you get at Tiffany’s for $50?” asks Ted Rossman, an industry analyst with

The Gift That Never Gives

Besides an inappropriate present, the gift card sometimes is never used.
Consumers, said the CEB TowerGroup, spend about $130 billion on gift cards a year, but some $1 billion is lost.

The billion dollars is burned up through non-use—people get cards, forget them or where they put them—or owing to transaction fees or spending part of the balance, then letting the rest lapse.

It’s has the attention of a money watchdog in the New York State government.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says consumers should read the fine print on these cards to spot fees. While some sellers have ended inactivity fees, consumers should still ask whether fees apply when purchasing a card as well as expiration dates.

Many don’t.

“Although gift cards are a popular purchase during the holiday shopping season, many of them go unused,” said DiNapoli in a statement.

“Last year,” he added, “my office received nearly $12 million from dormant gift cards. I encourage New Yorkers to read the terms when purchasing or receiving gift cards.”

You Now Have More Time to Get It

Those receiving them now have more time to understand them.

“Gift cards,” according to the Card Act of 2009, cannot expire within five years from the date they were activated and generally limits inactivity fees on gift cards except in certain circumstances, such as if there has been no transaction for at least 12 months.”

Both the buyer and recipient should understand the cards’ pluses and minuses. That’s because the average shopper will buy numerous cards, says the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics in a study.

“For the 12th year in a row gift cards are the most popular item on wish,” the study said.

We’ll Spend More This Year

NRF predicts that holiday spending will be up some four percent this year compared to 2017. Consumers, the NRF said, will spend an average of $1,007.24 during the holidays compared to $967.13 last year.

About two thirds will go to gifts, NRF said. This year, gift cards “were requested by 60 percent of those surveyed.”

It is the last-minute default option for many. Some 39 percent of Americans, said, will buy a gift card before the month of December is over.


Gregory Bresiger
Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent financial journalist from Queens, New York. His articles have appeared in publications such as Financial Planner Magazine and The New York Post.