Visa Gift Cards

Short version: My advice is to stay away from these.

I got one from Verizon as a perk for signing up for a year of FiOS service (internet and cable TV, not phone).

I went to use it (twice in a row) at Sears a couple weekends ago. The first transaction (about $80 bucks) went fine. The second one was declined. My plan was to empty the remaining twenty-something dollars on the Visa gift card and pay the balance (a couple bucks) in cash. No such luck. Unlike a store-brand gift card, it was not possible for Sears to know what the balance available on the card was. That’s okay for a real Visa card as there is an expectation that the user track his finances and know what’s available on the card.

But in my view, it is a reasonable expectation for the user of one of a Visa gift card to want to empty it completely and without having to track its balance to do so.

At the register, I called the number on the card (888-397-0765) and found myself in an automated system. This system advised me to use the Visa card first (absolutely not second) in a multi-payment-source transaction and to tell the clerk the amount available on the card. This was easy for me because I had my receipt from the previous transaction minutes before. I certainly hope that if I’d waded deeper into their menus, I’d have found an option to get the card’s balance— I didn’t need to but it could be a real hassle for others if this isn’t possible.

These cards are not cash. My advice if you get one is to spend it fast. Just get it off your plate. For example, convert it into an iTunes Gift Card (or several) or some other thing that you’ll definitely use. I certainly wouldn’t suggest using it here and there for various transactions — for something with perhaps a $100 balance to begin with, it’s not worth tracking the balance.

The nice clerk at Sears told me to keep the card around in case I ever need a refund as Sears will only refund to that exact card. Yet another reason to avoid these deceptive little monsters.

Never forget: This this is not cash and it’s not a proper Visa check or credit card. What’s worse, it’s not even as convenient as a store-brand card, which is quite an indictment.