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December 18, 2006

Wells Fargo Gift Cards: The Perfect Gift*?

Filed under: Finance,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

Wells Fargo Gift Card Gift cards are all the rage, and Wells Fargo says they have sold a million of them in just over a year.

Unlike store specific cards, the Wells Fargo card is a prepaid Visa card good anywhere Visa is accepted.

They call it “the perfect gift,” and tout its benefits on their website.

*MOUSE PRINT: What they don’t highlight are the many possible fees and quirks of the card. Those details are buried in their FAQs and separate 4000-word terms and conditions statement.

Information about fees is scattered over both documents, and they include:

  • Purchase fee: $2.50
  • Online shipping/handling: $2.50
  • Reissue fee (for balances remaining after three years): $7.50
  • Manual check issuance fee (to get remaining balance on card): $15.00
  • Monthly maintenance fee after one year: $2.50
  • Lost card replacement: $7.50
  • Foreign currency conversion fee: 3%

Card nuances:

  • Split tenders: if the item you are purchasing costs more than the amount you have left on the card, you may or may not be able to use the gift card in addition to some other form of payment to cover the balance.
  • Using the card at gas stations can pose a problem:

If you use your Card to purchase gasoline, we recommend that you pay inside the station, not at the pump. If you were to pay at the pump, the electronic terminal at the pump may be programmed to confirm that you have sufficient available balance on your Card to pay for an average purchase of gas. Before you are permitted to pump gas, many pumps seek an authorization for $75 and this amount could increase from time to time (“Preauthorization Request”). If you have an insufficient available balance on your Card to cover the Preauthorization Request, your attempt to use your Card at the pump may be declined. If you have a sufficient available balance on your Card to cover the Preauthorization Request, you will be permitted to continue your transaction at the pump. However, if the dollar amount of your actual gasoline purchase is less than the amount of the Preauthorization Request that we approved, a “hold” on your available balance may automatically result equal to the difference between the two amounts. Once the merchant sends us the final amount of your actual gasoline purchase, we will remove the “hold” on your available balance for any additional amount exceeding this final amount. This may take 3 to 7 days and during this period you will not be able to use any balance subject to this “hold.” TO AVOID A DECLINE OF, OR A HOLD ON, YOUR AVAILABLE BALANCE ON YOUR CARD, WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU PREPAY FOR YOUR GASOLINE INSIDE THE STATION.

  • Restaurants and travel businesses (hotels, car rentals) may authorize more than the actual purchase price of services, causing your card to be rejected if insufficient funds are on the card.

Many of these fees and inconveniences are inherent problems of many brands of gift cards or prepaid debit cards. And we probably should be thankful that Wells Fargo does not charge some fees that others do, such as for calls to customer service. The bottomline is that you might never know of these fees and inconveniences if you didn’t take the time to read all the mouse print.

• • •

23 Comments

  1. It is so hard to read the fine print before you purchase the card. I wonder how many people gave these cards only to fatten Wells Fargo’s bottom line. I would write a check or give cash rather than a gift card.

    Comment by Jaya — December 18, 2006 @ 11:12 am
  2. The bottom line is that you have to pay for your laziness of not buying a real present one way or the other. And that if you are this lazy, you might as well just give cold hard cash: it’s anonymous, fast, simple and has no fees, except of course for the possible ATM-fee your bank charges you.

    Comment by Nepkarel — December 18, 2006 @ 12:38 pm
  3. The fees on these gift cards is a total rip! I wanted to get someone a $50 VISA gift card for Christmas until I found out there was a $4.95 “issuance fee”. Give me a break! That’s a 10% fee just for the priveledge of getting to use their card and they still make money from merchant when you use the card. I realize the issuer of these card incurs certain cost, but the fees associated with them are quite ridiculous when given the fact that a perfectly good alternative exists. I’ve found that the majority of merchants out there still accept something called CASH and it’s my feeling that it makes a far better gift than a VISA gift card. Save money on your end AND merchants get the full purchase price for the goods you buy. Give CASH – it’s win-win!

    Comment by Shawn — December 18, 2006 @ 12:47 pm
  4. You could also find out where someone likes to shop and give them a gift card for that place instead of
    one of those “Visa” gift cards. For example, you could give them a Safeway or Target gift card and then
    there will be no fees.

    The reason is obvious, if you given them a Target gift card, they will have to shop there and Target will
    get guaranteed business, so there is no need to charge any fees.

    Comment by John A Elson — December 18, 2006 @ 2:00 pm
  5. Even without the fees, gift cards are really lucrative. It is like issuing your own currency. Home Depot reported $43 million in Gift Card “breakage” (unredeemed amounts). Wal-tart and Targets won’t even report theirs. Might as well have holes in your pocket. You would probably lose less money.

    Comment by peter — December 18, 2006 @ 3:09 pm
  6. I wanted to get purchase a couple of Visa Gift Cards through Wells Fargo, the
    only place in the town where I live that I could get them.
    Well, they would not accept a check and when I said that I would go to my bank,
    cash the check and come back with the cash – they wouldn’t accept that
    either!

    They told me I had to have an account with Wells Fargo to purchase the gift
    cards.
    This was after I stood in line for 30 minutes! How ridiculous is that!?
    Needless to say I won’t be getting Visa Gift Cards now or for future Christmas
    presents.

    Comment by Jeri — December 18, 2006 @ 4:34 pm
  7. And I thought gift certificates were bad…I know that the business ate the cost of the printing and redeeming, but I guess they got it back (on average) by unredeemed certs. The problem with these is that they could only be redeeemed at that particular store (or chain.)

    I’ve noticed that lots of places offer these gift cards for free with purchase or as some other incentive so you may not pay the up-front costs, but you also may not get full face value depending on how you use it or how long it takes. GIVE ME CASH or a direct discount! (Well, that won’t happen because that cuts into their profits a lot more!)

    I still prefer to give actual gifts or cash (or checks if mailed.)

    Comment by RS — December 19, 2006 @ 2:04 am
  8. Absolutely absurd.

    Comment by island — December 19, 2006 @ 2:26 am
  9. ahh gift cards/certificates, it’s like giving money, but you don’t get as much, can’t spend it everywhere and it expires.

    but i’m tempted to say that it’s your own fault if you forgot/neglected to buy a real gift.

    Comment by Alcari — December 19, 2006 @ 12:28 pm
  10. We got these cards through another bank because they are easier than travel checks. My husband and I did not have any problems with ours. We kept using them until the balance was like a buck. Our daughter had problems with hers because she wanted her money back. We understood we would have to pay the 15.00 and were cool with that. the problem was the different customer service that comes with these cards, they are not visa nor us bank. They use a service where no one speaks english well and it took us over 3 months to get her money even tho we were told it would take 10 to 14 business days. We finally had to call US bank and have them deal with subpar customer service to get our daughters money back.

    Comment by s rust — December 19, 2006 @ 1:00 pm
  11. Someone much wiser than I once wrote: The purpose of a bank is to take your money and make it theirs.

    Comment by Jeremiah — December 19, 2006 @ 1:12 pm
  12. I like getting gift cards and giving them. I do not use the Visa gift cards dur to the charges not just Wells fargo puts on them but all the Gift cards based on Credit cards have them. Specified gift cards like Target or 7-11 only have the one time fee of when you purchase them. I have never had a problem with losing money on them as I use them up within a month. For all those who worry about the lost money after 6 months to a year, why are you still holding on to them and not ever using them. Most cards will start deducting money from the gift card after a year which seems fair to me as you should have used it by then. Its free money who doesn’t want use that?

    Comment by Martin — December 21, 2006 @ 7:35 am
  13. I’ve had money in the bank for over a year and they pay me for the use of it – it’s called interest. So shouldn’t the value of unused gift cards go up the longer you don’t use them? After all they’ve had the use of your money to do with as they please for all that time.

    Comment by Shawn — December 21, 2006 @ 9:15 am
  14. Well said, Shawn.
    Martin, I was given a gift card last year for a store that I rarely go to. Every time I’m in the area, I don’t have the card, and every time I have the card, I’m not near the store. I agree that a year is reasonable to use a card, but if it were cash I could use it ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, and not lose value (other than inflation) if I hold it for a year or a decade.

    Comment by RS — December 26, 2006 @ 10:54 am
  15. I appreciate this article. I was seriously thinking about using prepaid credit cards as a means to help avoid identity theft, but if the bank is going to steal my money anyway, then the theft has already occurred. Shame on these banks.

    I use a credit union for just these sorts of reasons. They aren’t perfect, but they are much less fee intensive than banks.

    Comment by Indiana — January 19, 2007 @ 10:16 am
  16. about the gas station fine print: this happens with all cards when you try to use it as a debit. not just this specific card.

    Comment by Ria — February 7, 2007 @ 3:03 pm
  17. I happen to work for a bank, and for all of you out there who have nothing better to do than complain, keep your CASH in your wallet. Banks are not NOT FOR PROFIT organizations. What other types of businesses do you people go to and expect to get something for FREE? When you go to a restaurant, do you want to pay only the price of the food? Of course not, the restaurant is providing a service to
    you, to prepare the food and serve you, and then clean the mess. It amazes me, and I’m sure you are probably the same people who have NO PROBLEM calling the bank when you make mistake and LOSE your debit or credit card or your checkbook. That’s not our fault, but it is a service that we provide to help you resolve the problem. (and yes, it does cost the bank money to employ people to fix your mistakes). The same goes for the giftcards…people lose them and need help getting them reissued…this takes labor time, and well as resources (computers, office buildings, postage, etc.). GET REAL!!! P.S. I would like to know what companies you work for…obviously NOT FOR PROFITS, so I would like to utilize the FREE services!!!

    Comment by Stephanie — February 14, 2007 @ 4:32 pm
  18. Shame on the banks, Indiana? Shame on you for thinking you can utilize the bank services without paying a dime!

    Comment by Colorado — February 16, 2007 @ 12:14 pm
  19. Banks used to “earn” their money by safeguarding and using the money you deposited.
    To say that we as consumers at fault for complaining about these outrageous fees is like telling bank robbers they are just disgruntled customers. Both are crooks, one is just a little more obvious than the other.

    Comment by George — September 7, 2007 @ 5:26 pm
  20. I’ve found these cards make the ideal gift especially for teenagers. If you’re not sure what to give as a gift, its better to give a gift card rather than something they don’t want or need.

    Comment by Greeting Cards — November 18, 2007 @ 2:14 pm
  21. What a RIP OFF the Wells Fargo gift cards are!

    My husband and I got a Wells Fargo gift card this Christmas. We were told to use it by going out to eat together. But guess what! The Wells Fargo gift cards have a limit on how much you can spend in a restaurant! None of the other gift cards have these restrictions!

    So now what are we suppose to do with this stupid card?!?! They are NOT IDEAL CARDS! WELLS FARGO CARDS ARE COMPLETE RIP OFFS!

    Comment by Carolyn Fuller — January 17, 2008 @ 3:34 pm
  22. There are many options for buying/selling/trading gift cards that have come online in the last several years. You can find a decent summary of those option at http://www.giftcardadvocate.com/resources.html.

    If you have a Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover gift card, you can transfer the balance to PayPal at http://www.cashfromcards.com.

    Comment by Peter — September 3, 2008 @ 11:35 pm
  23. I think gift cards are a great gift, but yeah, the fees are a killer. However, there’s never been any gift card that I’ve received that I’ve said that I can’t find something at the store to spend it on. I can’t say that about regular gifts I’ve been given.

    Comment by Greg — November 16, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

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