Who gets this gift?

Gift cards can be more of a treat for the banks than for you

In this frenzied Christmas shopping season, as consumers hurry from store to store seeking the perfect gift for everyone on their list, there appears to be a port in the storm.

Gift cards are wildly popular. They’re easy to send in the mail or stuff in a stocking. They show at least a semblance of thought was given to the recipient’s desires yet still empower that recipient to get something they truly want.

Canadians spend about six billion dollars a year on gift cards. A survey last year by Maritz Research suggested almost half of Canadians were hoping to find a gift card under their Christmas tree.

They’re also popular with retailers. Statistics Canada says more than 80 per cent of large Canadian retailers offer gift cards.

For those shoppers still having a hard time making a decision at the gift card display, the credit card gift card issued by a number of banks seems like the perfect solution. But beware the fine print. There’s lots of it. Most of which works against the consumer.

Gift cards issued by retailers are regulated by provincial consumer laws. In B.C., that means they can’t have expiry dates and consumers can’t be charged fees to acquire or maintain the cards.

But bank credit card gift cards are regulated by Ottawa, which has yet to act to protect consumers against extra fees or expiry dates. Those fees can quickly chip away at the full value of the gift card.

And if the card does expire, the bank will gladly issue a new one for a substantial fee, plus a cancellation fee equal to the balance still on the card.

It all adds up to make a credit card gift card seem more a gift to the banks than the recipient. It’s time the federal government bring the rules for those cards in line with those that apply to retailer gift cards.

— editorial from the Burnaby News Leader/Black Press