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Learn From My Gift Card Gaffe

Gift card fees may begin to accumulate after a year.As a financial writer who has written many times about gift cards, I should know better than to have one hanging around for so long that it decreases in value.

But that’s exactly what I did.

More than a year ago, I received a $50 MasterCard gift card. Over the course of the next 13 months, that gift card had many homes, like the fruit basket on the counter, my desk drawer, even my husband’s back pocket.

Its pocket travels were to a store, where we made a large purchase and intended to apply the gift card toward the bill but forgot, and then afterward to a nice restaurant for dinner with friends, where it never made an appearance.

I finally put the gift card in my wallet before a recent weekend getaway to San Francisco. And there, in the city by the bay, we finally pulled it out to pay for a sushi dinner.

Only to have it declined.

As in the words of Liz Lemon from 30 Rock: What the what?

After handing the waitress his debit card, my husband called the number on the back of the MasterCard gift card and discovered that its value was only $46.

(A gift card will be declined if you try and use it for more than the value on the card.)

Fine print on the back of the card clearly disclosed that a $2 monthly fee was assessed after 12 months. Since the gift giver bought the card early in her shopping season, and we held onto it for 13 months without using it, $4 had been deducted.

In other words, we were out $4 on our gift.

And in just another 10 days, we would’ve been out another $2.

We used the gift card the next day, since we were able to clarify the card’s actual value.

We also used a $25 American Express prepaid card my husband had received as a perk at work a month ago, which I had smartly put in my wallet right away.

But this experience started me thinking about the other unused gift cards sitting in an envelope at home.

We were married last summer and received about 15 gift cards.

As it turns out, we have seven left — not bad. Six are from Crate & Barrel, which allows you to register your gift cards in case they’re lost or stolen.

I finally did that this month.

My husband and I also started talking about what we needed for the house that we could buy with those cards.

Our goal is to not have an envelope full of gift cards lurking in my desk drawer by this time next year.

And never again let one linger to the point that it loses value.

If you have a gift card or two lurking in your home, be sure to check out these 6 smart moves for getting the most out of them.

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