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Charity gift cards may pack unnecessary fees

December 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Charity gift cards may make convenient gifts, but some have unnecessary fees and other catches. Consumer specialist Ric Romero says you need to be cautious if you're getting one.When we teamed up with Consumer Reports we found out there can be some catches to buying a charity gift card. So here's what you need to know before you get one.

Tired of fighting the crowds at the mall or poring over catalogs only to spend too much on a gift basket or give a present no one ever uses?

Years ago, Neil Bogan and his family decided to focus more on giving to charities instead.

"You know, it just creates a little bit of different sense of the holidays. Maybe a little bit more relaxed, maybe a little more from the heart," said Bogan.

Bogan gives directly to the charities his family and friends prefer. That's a smart money move according to Consumer Reports money advisers. It's far better than giving the charity gift cards that are becoming more widespread.

"Here's how the cards work. You buy one from a charity network for as little as $10. Then the person you give it to can donate that money to the charity of their choice on the network's list," explained Greg Daugherty of Consumer Reports.

But Consumer Reports warns that there are catches with these cards.

They are generally non-refundable. Most charge fees just to buy the card. For example, a $10 card can have a $5 fee. Also, the charity networks Consumer Reports checked out deduct 3 to 15 percent for administrative and other costs.

"Another problem is that many of these cards expire usually within a year, and any money that hasn't been donated just goes to the non-profit that sold you the card," said Daugherty.

Writing a check, as Bogan does, is best according to Consumer Reports. He likes to give directly to poor farmers overseas.

"And it feels real good, you know, to give a tree, to give a cow. It's a lot of fun actually," said Bogan.

Bogan feels so strongly about giving to charities, he works with his church to help others do the same.

Consumer Reports says if you're wondering whether a charity is a good one, there are several organizations that rate them.


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