BOSTON (CBS) – I am not a big fan of just writing a check or giving cash as a gift. But it certainly is quick, easy and never returned.

Just stick it in an envelope or a fancy box and you are good to go. When my children were younger every year for Christmas they each got a $50 bill from a bachelor uncle. And each Thanksgiving they would begin to fantasize about how they would spend that money when it arrived.

But how about being a bit more creative? A long distance calling card if you want them to call you more often. A gift card to their favorite store or restaurant. My daughter gives us a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant and we spend most Tuesdays in January and February going out to dinner. But be sure it’s a restaurant the recipient likes and not your favorite Mexican place.

Also some restaurants like, Not your Average Joe’s, are offering a deal with gift cards. Buy $50 worth of gift cards and get another gift card worth $10 for yourself.

The grocery stores and the chain drugstores offer gift cards. Perhaps a gift card to a nursery so they can plant something amazing in their garden in the spring or they can choose a new tool.

Consumers spent $87 billion on gift cards last year. This is big business! But some gift cards are trouble.

Massachusetts law requires that gift cards and gift certificates be redeemable at full face value for up to seven years. Federal law only requires five years so be forewarned. A gift card issued by a national bank follows the federal law. They may have hidden costs such an inactivity fee after six months of non-use. You want to purchase store issued cards and stay away from the bank or mall issued cards.

According to the Tower Group a research firm, lost or unredeemed gift cards puts billions back into the pockets of the merchants.

If you are giving a gift card, be sure it’s for a store or service that the recipient will use. And beware of stores possibly going out of business. Linens and Things and Sharper Image are two examples in the last couple of years.

And if you are not happy with a gift card you received, I have found some resources for you. There are some sites on the web that allow the consumer to swap or sell their gift card. Here are just a few;, Swap a gift, Gift Card Rescue, Card Pool

  1. Teach Amazon says:

    I found a lot of interesting information in your blog. From the volume of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one! keep up the good work.

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