December 10, 2019

Bucks: Store-Branded Gift Cards Carry Fewer Fees

As the holiday season approaches, an analysis by 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, 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 companies 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?

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Frequent Flier: The Military Mind’s Take on Civilian Flights

I’m a former infantry officer, and I’ve had a number of scary military flights. But when I’m on a civilian flight, I don’t even think about what can go wrong. I have a lot of respect for pilots and aviation, so I just sit back and relax.

I did experience a really horrible landing one time on a commercial plane. People let out audible screams when we hit the runway. When we were getting off the plane, I was walking behind this elderly woman. The captain was in the cockpit door and she looked at him and asked if we crashed or if we landed. I thought it was the funniest thing I ever heard. He didn’t.

But as a military guy, I do find myself scanning the crowd, looking for unusual behavior. Fortunately, I haven’t seen anyone who put me on high alert.

I don’t like to talk to seatmates that much. One time when I was single I was seated next to the current Miss New Hampshire. I thought it was great. I was chatting away, and getting absolutely nowhere with her. So I convinced myself that people just don’t like to talk on a plane.

I am really aware of the attitude of the flight crew, and I like to commend them when they are doing a great job. A few months ago, I saw an attendant cleaning up after passengers as we were exiting. I told her she did her job really well. She gave me a huge smile and said she wished she could hear that more.

My wife and I got into a habit several years ago of handing out gift cards for coffee shops or restaurants to homeless people.

Now I always carry some coffee shop gift cards and give them to people I think have provided great customer service. I’ve given some to people at the airline counter who have spent a lot of time and effort trying to reroute a flight, or even if they just spend an extra few minutes making sure there isn’t a flight that can get me to a place earlier. A $5 or $10 gift card for a cup of coffee and some snacks isn’t going to break me, and it makes someone else feel appreciated. Everyone is in such a hurry, we spend too little time trying to be nice to one another.

I did find a way to amuse myself on a plane.

I graduated from West Point, and built semiconductors for about two years. I love mechanics and figuring out how things work. When the new toilets starting going into planes about five or 10 years ago, I couldn’t believe how much suction they have. So I devised this little experiment where I take the roll of toilet paper off the spinner, hold it above the toilet, leaving some paper hanging down.

When the toilet flushes, it sucks about half a roll off. It’s stupid, I know. But it fascinates me. My colleagues don’t know I do this, but I guess now they will. And in keeping with the spirit of being nice, I always make sure there is another roll available.

By Dave Alberga, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail:

By Dave Alberga, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail:

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Bucks Blog: Tuesday Reading: A Closer Look at Teeth May Mean More Fillings

November 29

Tuesday Reading: A Closer Look at Teeth May Mean More Fillings

A closer look at teeth may lead to more fillings, children’s weight doesn’t affect car-seat safety, gift cards for apps and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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Friendly’s Files for Bankruptcy Protection

The parent of the Friendly’s restaurant chain is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has already closed 63 of its stores, the company said Wednesday.

The 76-year-old company, known for its ice cream and hamburgers, said the economic downturn coupled with higher costs and high rents drove it to file for bankruptcy protection.

Friendly Ice Cream Corp., based in Wilbraham, Mass., said it has secured $70 million in financing and that its 424 remaining restaurants will stay open as it reorganizes under bankruptcy protection. Gift cards will continue to be honored.

It said the store closings and its reorganization efforts will better position it for the future.

Its current owners, Sun Capital Partners, will be the lead or “stalking horse” bidders in an auction process.

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Wal-Mart to Bring Back Layaway

Wal-Mart had scrapped layaway in 2006, saying that so many customers were using credit cards or gift cards that the program was obsolete. Now, though, consumers are demanding it, said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer for Wal-Mart’s United States stores.

“It just tells us the customer’s still struggling, as they tell us about their concerns with energy prices, housing prices, the job security, that 9.2 percent unemployment — it tells us that this is a fragile economy and the customer needs our help,” Mr. Mac Naughton said.

Layaway means that a store sets aside a product and requires customers to pay for it over time, usually charging a small service fee but no interest. With layaway, someone living paycheck to paycheck could potentially afford a more expensive item than otherwise, given the extra time to pay for it.

It was a common way to pay for expensive items through much of the 20th century. But as credit cards became popular, layaway dwindled and was mainly used by lower-income consumers who could not qualify for credit cards.

That has been changing in the last couple of years. As the recession hit and the recovery dragged on, some Wal-Mart competitors have offered layaway. Toys “R” Us started offering layaway on expensive items in 2009, while Sears brought back layaway in 2008 after a long hiatus. (Sears Holdings’ Kmart division has offered layaway for decades.)

The other retailers’ jump on layaway puts Wal-Mart into the unusual position of being a holiday season follower. Because of its size, it often sets the standards that other stores follow over the holidays, whether that is pricing on toys or its offer last year of free shipping on hundreds of online items.

Now, with nine consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales in the United States, and having said that improving those sales is a central focus, Wal-Mart is struggling to figure out how to get its consumers to spend. Executives have said throughout the year that shoppers are increasingly shunning credit and paying with cash, and are running out of money at the end of the month.

Wal-Mart’s revival of layaway indicates it does not expect consumers to feel flush anytime soon.

The layaway program will “alleviate the pressures they may have in their homes,” Mr. Mac Naughton said. “We think this is an opportunity for a cash-paying customer to create a payment program on their own time.”

Wal-Mart is limiting the program’s scope and time frame. Only toys and electronics may be paid for on layaway, starting Oct. 17 and ending Dec. 16. Each item must cost $15 or more, and the total layaway purchase must be $50 or more. There is a $5 service fee, and a 10 percent down payment is required.

Other retailers have similar conditions: Sears has a $5 service fee and a 20 percent down payment, while Toys “R” Us has a $10 service fee and 20 percent down payment.

On a site where shoppers can offer feedback to Wal-Mart, layaway has been one of the more popular suggestions.

A commenter by the name of PamS wrote that even when she set aside money for gifts, “the saved money usually gets used for some other unexpected bill or what not; whereas if I was able to do layaway I feel I could better budget and especially for special holidays.”

“I know for some the idea of layaway probably seems silly; but for those of us on very fixed and limited incomes, it does help,” she wrote.

Another commenter, SueH, had a similar view.

“I can’t get many things now either,” she wrote. “I don’t make enough money to pay all at one time. I can’t do extra for my grandkids. Please bring back layaway.”

Other shoppers said they were going to competitors because of their layaway programs. “You would think in this economy every store would have it! During Christmas I have to shop at Kmart cause of the layaway,” wrote a commenter under the name “wishing” on a West Virginia forum.

Mr. Mac Naughton also outlined other plans for the holiday season. Holiday merchandise will hit stores in mid-October, about two weeks earlier than usual, he said. And Wal-Mart will put a number of toys on sale for $15 starting Monday, including some Lego play sets and Princess Toddler dolls from Disney.

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Bucks: Time to Use Those Borders Gift Cards

Have any gift cards from Borders stashed away in your desk? You might want to fish them out and buy some books with them — sooner rather than later.

Borders began liquidating on Friday, and is expected to shut down its remaining 399 stores by September. The company says it is honoring gift cards.

Just remember to be nice when visiting a store. The Consumerist has featured reports in which Borders employees describe ugly scenes in which customers are outraged that the merchandise sold by the liquidating chain isn’t cheap enough.

But some consumer experts say they wouldn’t wait too long to use the gift cards. It’s best in these sorts of situations to act quickly, and buy online if you can’t make it to a store anytime soon, said Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert on the Web site Kinoli. Shoppers, she said, “are well advised to use up their balances before it’s too late.

Have you used your Borders gift card?

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