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7 ways to make the most of gift cards

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Know the different types of gift cards
Know the different types of gift cards

Gift cards come in two basic flavors: closed loop, or those specific to one retailer or retailer group, and open loop, or general, network-branded cards that can be used anywhere.

Each has benefits, so it pays to know which one you have or want to give, says Breyault.

With closed-loop cards, offered directly by retailers, there are usually no fees -- either at purchase or later. You'll pay $50 for a $50 gift card.

The downside: If the retailer has no locations nearby or an online shopping site, closed-loop gift cards can make shopping inconvenient. If the store goes under, the card could be worthless.

"Times are tough," Breyault says. "You never know who's going to make it and who's not."

Open-loop gift cards often carry the imprints of major card networks, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express. They can typically be used almost anywhere that accepts that brand. The trade-off: Consumers usually pay a fee to buy the card, says Breyault. After the cards are a year old, the issuer could assess other fees.

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