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February 16, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Gift card

Visa_card Nick Hulst writes:

Our local mall has made the move from using the traditional gift certificate to a using a pre-paid Visa card. This move was supposed to be a more useful format, but the pre-paid Visa cards have added their fair share of confusion.

Note the word "DEBIT" in large letters on the front face of the card. However, the card's instructions are not so straightforward.

The first bullet says that the card may be used "wherever Visa debit cards are accepted." Then, in the third bullet, the instructions say, "Select the 'credit' button when making a purchase. The card will not process correctly if the cardholder presses the 'debit' button."



am I missing something, or is the beginning of the 1st bullet redundant?

Posted by: gmangw at February 16, 2006 12:36 AM

It's Debit because it doesn't process up to a credit limit, but down from a fixed balance (like a bank account). But it processes like a Credit Card, since those don't require PINs.

Works, but redundant and confusing. Broken.

Posted by: =David at February 16, 2006 01:21 AM

What's dumber is the whole point of a "Gift card", is to make people buy stuff at the store you got the card from... but if you can use it like a Visa card, why would any store sell it?

Posted by: Omg, I am not funny today. at February 16, 2006 02:01 AM

I think having to tell the machine whether your card is debit or credit is broken, anyway. That should be part of the information conveyed by the swipe.

Posted by: Mark Gritter at February 16, 2006 02:39 AM

In working retail (which I do on a part-time seasonal basis), we are required to actually push a button to indicate whether the card the customer has presented is Mastercard, Visa, Discover or AMEX. Giving such a selection to the customer might actually alleviate the Credit/Debit question. Offer the customer these four (or whatever other) choices, plus a button that says "ATM card".

Truthfully, this should never have happened. An ATM card is an ATM card, but all stores call them Debit cards. The POS equipment cannot tell (and does not need to tell) the difference between a Visa credit card and a Visa debit card. There is no functional difference from the POS POV.

The terminology is broken.

Posted by: Glenn Lasher at February 16, 2006 06:56 AM

I have a Flexible Spending Account thru my employer, which allows $ to be taken out of my paycheck before taxes and I can spend that money on health-care costs only. What they did, is give me a Mastercard with the FSA limit, and it too says "DEBIT" right on the front. When I swipe, I've learned I have to select CREDIT. But it STILL prompts me for a PIN number, and I have to select "CLEAR". Totally broken!! My poor pharmacist had to walk me thru it.

Posted by: FSA_User at February 16, 2006 08:33 AM

Asbestos - What's so wrong with gift cards? I would rather receive a gift card from my favorite store than a gift that is completely useless to me.

There's a hidden brokenness about these Visa gift cards that you don't find out about until you use them... If your purchase is more than the amount of money left on the card, the card is declined. One would think that you should just swipe the gift card and have whatever was left on it be deducted from the amount of your pruchase, but alas it does not work that way. You have to find out the exact balance of you card via phone or internet and tell the clerk to charge the debit card for the exact amount. Now THAT is broken!

Posted by: Chaos at February 16, 2006 08:50 AM

Visa gift cards also have an activation fee, sometimes as much as $10.

Given that most gift cards I would ever buy would never exceed $25 in value, this seems pretty broken to me.

Posted by: Josh Z. at February 16, 2006 08:56 AM


I don't mind receiving money or gift card for my birthday, as long as it is a lot of money or a card with no limit...

Posted by: Pierre at February 16, 2006 09:29 AM

"but if you can use it like a Visa card, why would any store sell it?"

Think about it. If you had a store, and could sell these little cards for cash, and then the recipients of the card go and get their free stuff from another store, meaning you get the cash but don't have to give anything to anyone later... what's the negative?

Posted by: The Damned Ghost Of Tookie at February 16, 2006 09:54 AM

Tookie - Someone does indeed pay cash for that little plastic card, but the store activating the card needs to take that same amount out of their bank account an put it on the card. So cash is flowing into the register but out of the bank. A store does not profit from the card unless the recipient of the card uses it in the store in which it was purchased.

Posted by: Chaos at February 16, 2006 10:41 AM


Actually, there's a grand misconception that there is any money on a gift card whatsoever. Money on it would imply that we had access to it and the ability to get it back. But we don't. It's just credit that we have for merchandise in the store. They make the profit the moment the cash goes in the register.

Posted by: =David at February 16, 2006 12:01 PM

Where do you think that credit comes from? The Credit Fairy? You give Store A $25 to purchase a gift card. You are given a gift card with a credit of $25. Where does that credit come from? It comes from Store A's bank account. The store cannot just give you a card and say, "Here's your card, go spend it." They have to put credit on that card. When you swipe that gift card, the money has to come from somewhere. In (the register) and out (of the bank). No profit. Profit comes from activation fees and non-use charges.

Posted by: Chaos at February 16, 2006 01:24 PM

There's still no money out of the bank. The money goes into the bank right away. I've worked retail for three years. The cash is posted to the bank the day it's paid to buy the card. You get progressively less credit as non-use charges stack up, but the sale is done and over with when you buy the card- you just choose and pick up the merchandise later.

Posted by: =David at February 16, 2006 02:02 PM

"There's still no money out of the bank. The money goes into the bank right away."

If the customer's money is deposited in the bank the same day, then the customer's money pays for the gift card, BUT if a deposit is not made for two weeks guess who's money pays for that gift card...

My point is that the store does not profit from the sale of gift cards "the moment the cash goes in the register". They don't profit from them at all unless there are activation fees and no-usage fees.

Posted by: Chaos at February 16, 2006 03:29 PM

Asbestos: "experation" ugh...

Posted by: Nigel Pond at February 16, 2006 03:49 PM

Sounds like a pain in the a** to me. If a card is not worth exactly what the purchaser paid for it (& is hard to use) than it is a rip off. I say don't buy 'em! In God we trust...all others pay cash.

Posted by: no thanks at February 16, 2006 04:20 PM

Actually they are great for the customers.

The mall that I buy them from doesnt charge any money. A $100 gift card costs $100. They are accepted anywhere visa is. If I want to make a purchase online I use the card thus limiting the risk. If it is lost or stolen I get my money back.

It would be better if I could also get cash from it.

You can go online and look at the transaction history and amount you have left on it.

The only irritant is that stupid 'Debit' word. It confuses the heck out of casheirs. Also they ask me for id but the name on the card is the name of the Mall that issued it. Which is funny.

Malls use them so that the customer can use the card at any store in the mall. The packaging leads one to beleive that it can only be used at the mall. Which isnt true.

Posted by: Bob at February 16, 2006 05:39 PM

I forgot how much was left on my gift debit card once. The cashier said if I didn't know how much was on it, and I tried to charge over that amount, it would be declined without telling us how much is left. Rather than play a guessing game, I threw it away. Broken.

Posted by: Matt at February 16, 2006 05:46 PM

Matt - That is true. It is the hidden brokenness of these gift cards, but you can usually call the phone number listed on the back of the card and get your balance.

Posted by: Chaos at February 16, 2006 05:57 PM

I noticed the same thing when I got a $50 mail in rebate in a visa card form from my cingular razor phone. About a week after i got the rebate a text messgae was sent to my phone saying that my reabate had been shiped and to allow 3-5 weeks for it to arrive!

Posted by: Robbie at February 16, 2006 06:18 PM

Why is the name of the Mall on the card? Because they are the ones who set the rules about reactivation fees and checking your balance fees. You can use it anywhere Visa is accepted.

Chaos, you do not understand credit. Credit is a pre-approved loan. Credit card companies determine what amount they want to loan based on how risky your credit history is. This is a prepaid card: you pay cash for plastic then use the plastic like cash.

The only people who would purchase a prepaid card and then use it to get cash are people who are doing something illegal like smuggling drugs. That's why you don't get a PIN to get cash back.

I would much rather get cash as a gift than any gift card with strings attached.

Posted by: Confused Shopper at February 17, 2006 12:09 AM

Confused Shopper - I understand credit just fine. I was not speaking of credit as in a loan or a credit card. Credit has several different definitions. I was using credit in terms of "The positive balance or amount remaining in a person's account". Take a look at your bank statement... deposits to your account are called "credits". That's the term I was using. David is absolutely right - there is NO money on a gift card. The card has a credit on it for the amount you paid.

Posted by: Chaos at February 17, 2006 09:03 AM

Chaos - I could really use a visit from the credit fairy - next time you see him, would you send him my way?

And sorry, Asbestos, but not knowing how to spell is tacky.

Posted by: Amber at February 17, 2006 09:13 AM

LOL Amber I could use a visit from the debit AND the credit fairy. If I ever find them I will send them your way. :)

Posted by: Chaos at February 17, 2006 10:24 AM

As I understand it in Calif. if you tell the clerk that you can find nothing in the store you want to buy with their gift card and you want the value of it in cash, they have to give it to you ( as long as the card was bought and wasn't issued as a refund for a returned item that you didn't have a recipt for.)

Amber not knowing how to spell just shows you don't know how to spell,usually either from a bad eduacation or as in my case a learning disabality. Making nasty remarks about someones shortcomings due to disabilities or the poor eduaction they recived (or both) is tacky.

You hit a sore spot with this one, I'll get off my soap box now.


Posted by: Diana at February 17, 2006 11:44 AM

Debit cards get their name because every time a person uses his/her own, the issuing company/bank debits the account payable for that person. When you put money in the bank, the bank owes you that money. So like the bank calling their cards debit cards instead of credit cards, prepaid gift cards are called debit cards.

Posted by: Confused Shopper at February 17, 2006 12:41 PM

Simple as this.


Debit = The amount you owe is removed from the available balance in the account.

Credit= The amount you owe is added to the amount you will pay the bank someday.


Debit = Requires a PIN, no signature

Credit= Requires a signature, no pin

In type of card, the gift card is debit. In processing, it is a credit.

Still confusing. Still redundant. Still broken.

Posted by: =David at February 18, 2006 03:06 AM

I actually received one of these for an internship. When I read that I also thought it was strange that in all caps it reads debit. Im just glad I read the instructions, I guess thats what theyre for.

Posted by: eep at February 18, 2006 06:59 PM

>>>I think having to tell the machine whether your card is debit or credit is broken, anyway. That should be part of the information conveyed by the swipe.>>>

I think there are cards that can be used as both.


Posted by: Jonathan at February 19, 2006 04:20 AM

>>>I forgot how much was left on my gift debit card once. The cashier said if I didn't know how much was on it, and I tried to charge over that amount, it would be declined without telling us how much is left. Rather than play a guessing game, I threw it away. Broken.>>>

I have found a few gift cards on the ground lately. I just buy gum with them until they are declined. In future, please leave your gift debit cards on the ground instead of the garbage can so I can use them. Thank you.


Posted by: Jonathan at February 19, 2006 04:24 AM

Part of the rip-off is that most people will make a majority of the purchase price of the card and not use the remainder, or recharge the card (since it was a gift anyway).

A 25-dollar gift card given, only 21 dollars spent, whatcha going to get with the remaining four dollars? In any case, it probably won't be spent entirely/eventually.


Posted by: Thomas Fieselmann at March 7, 2006 02:09 PM

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