Tips to avoid gift card aggravation

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - With the holidays quickly approaching, gift cards can make a good buy foranyone. But with billions ofdollars in unused gift cards, you'll want to know your options when buying orcashing in so we found out the biggest pitfalls and how to get the most foryour money.

They're moreoriginal than writing a check, but if you plan to give gift cards this year, remember that not all cards are createdequal.

Armed with a wallet full at Coastal Grand, we found Phyllis Harris. "I carry them around so if I am out, I can usethem, because that's even more frustrating to show up and have the gift card beat home."

The good news isfederal rules require money on a gift card to be good for at least five yearsfrom the date the card was purchased.

"Did you realize there was a year minexpiration on gift cards?" WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely asked.

"No I didn't, I did not at all," Phyllis answered.

And that lack of knowledge cost her dinner. "Last time I tried to use one after we got onelast Christmas, the waiter told us that the card had expired. You can't go back and get it so you're evenmore frustrated to realize they shouldn't have been able to do that."

Harris will have to call to verify the original purchase date on these cards, and you may as well, if you don't have the original receipt. Just realize the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs says the federal law of five years trumps the otherwise state law of a one year expiration on gift cards.

Customer Oliver Heilman said, "I knew there was one, but I didn't know howfar it went."

Oliver Heilman is another customer who didn't know about the five year expiration. "I think it's a great thing, for people whodon't understand that they can keep these things for a while, I think it'sgreat that they would do something like that."

However, you can be charged fees after 12 months for inactivity. "I didn't know that either," Phyllis remarked.

Now if a retailer orrestaurant like Tommy Bahamas goes out of business, you're likely out of luck, though you may be able to get credit at apartner store. And many restaurantslike Burro Loco offer bonus cards when you purchase gift cards around theholidays.

Elise Angell with Centraarchy said, "You get 20 percent, so on every 50 you get 10 then you purchase 100, you get 20 dollars etc."

In this case Elise Angell says the Centraarchy Restaurant bonus cards, just like the regular gift cards, never expire. "You should be able to use your gift cards whenever you pay for them so your money is still good; the money doesn't expire."

Their bonus cardscan't be used until January 1. But realize other restaurants do have expiration dates on their bonus cards, and have use limitations, so alwaysread the fine print.

But talk tothe manager before you toss them out. For example, Gordon Biersch says they honortheir bonus cards after the March expiration date.

With billions of dollars worth of unclaimedgift cards like these, who really wins? You could say the retailers win if you never use them, however the Better Business Bureau says customers who redeem gift cards typically spend more than the card value, so that can be good for business and for you,

Just remember to do your homework. Also remember that giftcertificates are not taxed since you're taxed when you redeem them.

Copyright 2013 WMBF News. All rights reserved.