Keeping more money at the checkout

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Money mom was at the local grocery store checkout the other day and saw that the store was offering an extra 10 percent if she cashed in her tax stimulus check for a store gift card. A number of retailers are offering similar incentives to get you to commit your tax check to them.

At first, it sounds like a pretty good deal – more money to spend. But, if you place all the money in a gift certificate or gift card, your money is tied to that retailer. Unless you planned on spending your entire tax stimulus check at that particular retailer, that extra bonus may not help you.

Why? Because gift cards often go unused, and you could end up losing the balance. A November 2007 Consumer Reports survey found that 27 percent of consumers who received a gift card the year before still had not spent all of the funds.

Also, some states allow gift cards to expire, so you may not get to use the full value of your tax stimulus check.

And there’s always the chance in this economy that the store may go bankrupt! If you hold a gift card from a store that goes bankrupt, you may end up losing some money or be left empty-handed. Sharper Image consumers with gift cards recently had this unfortunate experience. California and Washington have laws that protect the value of the gift card when a company goes under, but most consumers will lose out if they’re holding a gift card for a retailer who has gone belly up.

Those extra bonuses and incentives can seem enticing at first, but not if you aren’t going to use all of your tax stimulus check money at one place — and soon. The best solution – stick that tax stimulus check in your checking or savings account, because cash never expires..

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