QUESTION: OK, I surrender – this holiday season I’m going to get everyone gift cards. Should I be worried about limits, fees or expiration dates? ANSWER: People are increasingly turning to gift cards as spending hours in a crowded mall looking for that last Xbox, iPod or Elmo grows less appealing. But shoppers should do some research first. The gift cards that require the most diligence are issued by banks and credit-card companies. They can be used practically anywhere the issuer’s credit card is accepted, but are often off-limits for things such as recurring bills, car rentals, pay-at-the-pump gas stations and casinos. More importantly, they expire, and the issuers tend to tack on fees. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsAmerican Express gift cards charge a monthly service fee of $2 after a year and $5.95 to replace a lost or stolen card. The card has a “valid through” date – if it expires and you still have funds remaining, you can ask for a check for the amount but American Express will deduct $10. Discover doesn’t charge a shipping fee, but its gift cards deduct a $2.50 dormancy fee after a year of inactivity, and expire after two years. You can request a replacement card for up to 90 days after expiration, but it costs $5. For Visa and MasterCard gift cards, the individual banks that issue them can provide you with fee information. Be sure to ask specifically about upfront fees, dormancy fees, fees to check your balance and fees to get your balance back if the card expires. Gift cards issued by retailers are more restrictive in the obvious sense – the recipient can only spend them at the store – but they usually don’t have fees or expiration dates. So if you know where your friend likes to shop, a store gift card is probably a better choice than a bank gift card. If your friend is a big online shopper, ask if the gift card can be used for Web purchases. Home Depot Inc. gift cards, for example, only can be used for in-store purchases. The National Retail Federation said 92 percent of the leading retailers have no gift card fees. Of the 22 major retailers surveyed this year by online financial information service Bankrate.com, none charged fees for their gift cards, and only Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s had expiration dates. Gift-card laws do vary across states. Bankrate.com recommends checking your state’s consumer protection department for details. In some states, an unused gift card counts as unclaimed property, so after a couple of years, the state can claim it. Here’s some state-specific fine print: American Express does not ship gift cards to Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island or Vermont. Discover does not sell gift cards in those four states, plus Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Tennessee. Macy’s gift cards expire in some states, but not in California, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Bloomingdale’s gift cards also expire in some states, but not in California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada. Head spinning yet? Some might claim it’s tacky, but no one is going to turn down a wad of greenbacks wrapped in a big red bow. No limits, no fees, no expiration dates.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!