Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Visa gift card (credit card)

I recently participated in a usability study and was given a Visa gift card to thank me for my time. Unfortunately, the gift card is not as easy to use as cash or a check, but I found a good way to handle it.

The gift card cannot be used at an ATM or bank to get cash. If you try to charge more than the card's balance at a merchant, the entire transaction will be denied. A merchant cannot check the card's balance. So, if someone receives a Visa gift card, uses it a few times, then wants to use all of the remaining balance, he or she has to check the balance by calling an 800 number or going to a website, then go to a merchant and say "Please charge eg $23.14 to my gift card and I'll pay the remainder with another credit card." If the amount charged to the gift card is even 1 cent over the balance, the transaction will be denied. Also, the card's balance will deduct by $2 every month ("maintenance" fee), so you'd better check your balance on the exact day you plan to use it. I guess this fee only applies 13 months after the card was purchased, so not quite as brutal, but the card's value simply disappears after 2 years.

As you can see, Visa must be making a lot of money on unused balance, maintenance fees, and the $5.95 that the gift card's purchaser spent just to burden you with this pseudo money. Here's how to beat the system: Pay your utility bill with the gift card. As soon as you get the gift card, use it to pay the card's full value into your phone, cable, etc account. The utility company will just credit your account, and lower the amount due for the next month or two. This way, you can use the full amount of the card without ever checking balances or worrying about fees. Now spend your utility bill money on something fun.


  1. I buy gift card. Almost as good as cash.

  2. I use my account to convert into cash for all the rebates I do. Yes it does take 2.75% off but it is in my bank account by the next day.