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Monday, November 12, 2012

Store-Branded Gift Cards Carry Fewer Fees

As the holiday season approaches, an analysis by Bankrate.com finds that store-branded gift cards charge fewer fees than the all-purpose cards offered by banks and credit-cards companies.

Bankrate's 2012 Gift Card Survey found that of the 55 widely held store-branded gift cards it reviewed, like those from Best Buy and Kohl's, just five charge a purchase fee. Meanwhile, all eight widely held cards issued by banks and card companies that recipients could use at any store that accepts card charged a purchase fee, ranging from $2.95 to $6.95.

“The key takeaway for consumers is that they're going to get the most value from store-branded gift cards,” said Janna Herron, a credit card analyst at Bankrate.com, in a statement. “The benefit of general-purpose cards offered by banks and credit card companies is that they can be used anywhere, but because of the fees, you would be better off giving cash.”

Three-fourths of the cards offered by banks and card c ompanies charge a maintenance or dormancy fee of up to $3 a month, if the card goes unused for at least 12 months. Just 2 percent of store-branded gift cards charge such fees.

About half of the gift cards surveyed can be reloaded. And two-thirds of gift-card issuers will replace the card and/or funds if the card is lost or stolen.

The vast majority of cards don't have an expiration date. The findings are based on a review of the cards between Oct. 1 and Oct. 13.

Will you give gift cards this holiday season?

An Election Probably Shouldn\'t Change Your Financial Plan

Carl Richards

Carl Richards is a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, and is the director of investor education at the BAM Alliance. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published this year. His sketches are archived on the Bucks blog.

New information is scary. When things change, we often don't know what to do. We may have had a plan before things changed, but things are different. So now what?

With the election last week, we suddenly have lots of new information, or at least it feels like we do. A little less than half the country is surprised and even disappointed. And unless you're living in a cave, you're now hearing about the uncertainty surrounding the looming budget showdown.

At times like these, there is a tendency to act now and ask questions later. Before you do, take just a moment, a small pause, and walk through a few steps to avoid making a big mistake.

1. Do you have a plan?

I'm assuming you do. You have a clear idea of where you are today, where you want to go and you have spelled out the investment process that you think will get you there.

2. Does this new information change that plan?

Any investment or financial plan most likely has risk built into it. Uncertainty is not new. Of course, this time might indeed be different, but don't bet on it. Instead, make sure that the level of risk you're taking matches your goals.

3. Should you change course?

After reviewing your plan in light of this new information, the key question to ask is whether a change is warranted. The primary reason for making changes to a sound plan depends on changes in your life and goals, not changes in the markets or politics. So i f your goals haven't changed, and you have a rational plan to get there, stick with it.

If, on the other hand, this new information has you reassessing your goals and the level of risk required to get there, it might be time to revisit your plan. Do it deliberately and with care, because history has shown that selling when worried can be a bad idea.

And all this process requires is that you pause and ask a few questions before acting. It seems like a small thing to do to avoid making the same painful mistakes over and over again.


Monday Reading: Reconsidering Flood Insurance

A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

  • Parents shouldering loans for college-aged children fall on tough times. (National)
  • Casting a ballot by smartphone. (Bits)
  • Plan to become an ex-smoker for good. (Well)
  • The cellphone minutes were prepaid, but the grief was free. (Business)
  • An island guide to Caribbean deals. (Travel)
  • Seven hotels that sell more than sun. (Travel)
  • Hurricane Sandy reveals a life unplugged. (Sunday Styles)
  • Reconsidering flood insurance. (Real Estate)
  • Dealing with delayed closings after Hurricane Sandy. (Real Estate)
  • Obama to insist on tax increase for the wealthy. (National)
  • Young adults are moving out a bit more now. (Economix)
  • Price is major factor for electric vehicles. (Wheels)
  • Chrysler recalls 745,000 Jeeps for airbag problem. (Wheels)
  • A race against the clock again in package delivery. (Business)
  • Removing a Firefox add-on. (Gadgetwise)
  • Can foods affect colon-cancer survival? (Well)
  • The kugel challenge. (Well)
  • More time to enroll in Medicare for those in storm areas. (The New Old Age)
  • SAT subject test requirement changed for those affected by storm. (The Choice)
  • Who told the AARP about my birthday? (Booming)

The Early Word: Strategy

Today's Times

  • President Obama is taking a new approach to budget talks this time around, meeting with business leaders and rallying the public to support a deficit-cutting accord that mixes tax increases on the wealthy with spending cuts, Jackie Calmes writes.
  • The growth of unlimited fund-raising and the move of outside groups to the mainstream of politics have magnified the role of money in political campaigns, with Mr. Obama's re-election victory likely to reinforce the practice, Nicholas Confessore reports.
  • The 2012 election exposed the Republican Party's vulnerability to potent demographic shifts, setting the stage for a struggle between those determined to rebrand the party in a softer light and those yearning instead for ideological purity, Kevin Sack and Sarah Wheaton report.

 Happening in Washington

  • The Library of Congress will open the exhibition “The Civil War in America,” commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.