According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $145 on gift cards this holiday season - that adds up to $24 billion. And even though about one-third of us think that giving gift cards isn't as nice as a …

ATLANTA - According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $145 on gift cards this holiday season - that adds up to $24 billion. And even though about one-third of us think that giving gift cards isn't as nice as a wrapped gift, 75 percent of us will buy them anyway.

They're as easy to buy as bread or milk, in fact, you can buy store-specific gift cards in the exact same place you buy your groceries. They're plentiful, they're convenient and these days they're one of the most requested gift.

While the last shopping days before Christmas are winding down, there's one gift you can still buy that is almost a sure thing - gift cards.

"It's kind of the perfect thing. You don't always know what the kids want. The gift card lets them pick what they want," said shopper Vish Narendra.

Gift cards are the second most requested holiday gift for women and they come in number 3 for men.

"And that's a change because in years up until now, generally the older you were the more you were against gift cards. You felt like it was kind of an excuse for a present. But young people wanted them. Now we're finding out that just about every age group thinks they're a good gift," said consumer expert Richard Warner.

They come in hundreds of varieties and from just about any store imaginable. According to consumer expert, Richard Warner, the first gift card appeared in the marketplace in 1995 offered by blockbuster. It was a marketing ploy to get people to buy more movies. But other store soon caught on because traditionally, the shopping season peaked in mid December.

"With gift cards, that all changed. Now January is a very healthy month because most people cash in their gift cards and most people who get them, spend more at the store than the value of the gift card. So the stores love it," said Warner.

And there's much less risk to buying them these days. Federal law prohibits stores from tacking on inactivity fees for the first year. But there's no protection for you if the store goes out of business or if you lose the gift card - so the sooner you use them, the better.

"You can be smart about when you use it. You can wait until something goes on sale and buy it. So you can actually maximize the value of the gift card by choosing to use it when it's most convenient to you and for shopping sales," said shopper Dana Munson.

Store specific gifts cards -- think Macy's, Home Depot, a popular restaurant -- those are the best gift cards because they're free to buy. You just have to be sure the receiver shops at that establishment. Then there's gift cards that can be used anywhere, these are branded gift cards you buy from American Express or Visa. They can be used more places, but usually charge an upfront fee when you purchase them.

For more information on gift cards visit Plastic Jungle or Card Pool .

 
 
 
 

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