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Gift cards are an easy option if you’re short of time or just can’t figure out what present to get someone – but there are catches you need to think about if you are giving or receiving a gift card.

Ask my wife and my family what they think I’d want for a present and they’ll probably release a collective sigh. I’m a nightmare. I’ve no idea what I want, leaving them with the difficult decision of guessing, or getting me vouchers.

The latter is probably the better choice (though I’d prefer cash), but it’s not without complications.

Here are the things you need to consider whether you’re buying or receiving a gift card or voucher.

1. Where can you use the gift card?

Just because it says the name of the shop, it doesn’t mean you can use it there. Some have different vouchers for online and in-store. Some shops will also have restrictions on what you can buy.

If you are buying them as a gift, consider multi-shop vouchers such as One4All and Love2Shop. They’re valid at a host of shops, but do check which ones. I had a stack sitting in my wallet as part of switching my broadband to TalkTalk for eight months until I had a reason to use them. You can sometimes save on these via Zeek (more on this below).

Also, check if you can get change or not if you don’t spend the full amount.

2. How long have you got to use the gift card?

Have a look to see if there is an expiry date and make a note in your diary at least a month before to remind yourself. Frustratingly, most gift cards don’t display the expiry date on the cards themselves. Instead you need to check the balance and date online.

If you have a gift card rather than a voucher, do check the terms and conditions. Some will be wiped if they aren’t used for a certain time such as 12 months. Others charge a fee for every month they are unused, which can see your balance drop very quickly.

3. Can you pay less for gift cards?

If I ever buy a gift card, it’s never at full price. Mostly I use Zeek, but there are other ways to get a discount or top up bonus on popular cards such as iTunes and Amazon.

Buy or sell unwanted gift cards at Zeek

The voucher resale app and website Zeek often has discounts on all sorts of unwanted gift cards. I regularly pick up Tesco or Sainsbury’s cards with 3% off, and M&S with 10% off. And I’ve manged to get as much as 20% off cards for Cineworld, Ticketmaster and GAP.

You can save £5 off your first purchase with the code 2li721, (apply this in settings before buying).

You can also sell any vouchers or cards you don’t think you’ll use with Zeek for a small fee.

>> Download the Zeek app and claim your £5 free credit

Find special offers

Keep an eye on my vouchers and deals section as I’ll often post deals. Recent finds included bonus £5 Amazon credit when you spend £100 on vouchers and 20% off iTunes. You often need to be quick on these so follow me on Facebook or Twitter to hear about them first.

Get cashback on new gift cards

You can get 5% cashback via Topcashback on cards for places like Currys and Marks & Spencers. You can also max your normal cashback by cashing in for a gift card rather than a bank transfer, often giving you an extra 5%. More about TopCashback and how to sign up here.

4. What happens if the shop goes bust?

This is the biggest risk. If you give or receive a voucher for a company that goes bust, there’s a high chance you won’t be able to use them. It’s not always the case – HMV and Comet both honoured them, but there are plenty that didn’t.

If you have vouchers and don’t want to spend them straight away, keep an eye on the business sections of the news and papers to see if the shop looks like it’s in trouble.

The best advice is to spend them sooner rather than later if you can.

5. What happens if you lose or damage it?

Gift cards and vouchers are basically money – so you should treat them in the same way. Take care of them! That includes making sure paper ones don’t get torn.

You can register some cards (but not paper vouchers). This lets you can cancel the gift card and transfer the balance to a new card. It’s worth checking that when you get them.

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