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      Use gift cards wisely this holiday season

      They're the one-size fits all gift this holiday season; the gift card. Markets may be down, but according to, gift card purchases are up. Target in Marquette has seen this boom firsthand.

      "Our gift card sales are doing very well this year," said manager, Keven Higgins. "They're up in both numbers of gift cards sold and particularly they're up in the amount that people are choosing to act on those gift cards."

      And a new law just made an already popular purchase even more appealing. Effective August 22, 2010, money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased, and funds cannot be depleted for fees. The gift card industry is expected to reach $100 billion in sales by 2012.

      But just because gift cards are the popular consumer choice this holiday season, are they the right consumer choice? Are there any concerns that come with gift cards?

      The Better Business Bureau says swipe smartly. Gift cards are not credit or debit cards and shouldn't be used like them.

      "Treat that gift card like it's cash," said Pat Bennett, an Eastern Michigan BBB representative. "You want to keep it secure and use it as soon as possible."

      Gift cards come in two major forms: merchant branded, which can be used in specific stores, or those issued by financial institutions, which can be used anywhere. If you buy a merchant specific card, the BBB says to make sure you are buying it from a business in good standing.

      "You don't want to be buying gift cards from retailers that may be on the brink of bankruptcy or going out of business," Bennett said.

      If you purchase a Visa, MasterCard or AMEX gift card, make sure you keep a receipt in case it gets lost or stolen. If you get one, use it as quickly as possible to avoid fees. Online or e-gift cards are also an option, however, the BBB says your safest bet is to make your purchase in person.