Bailout Strategy—Rip Off the Little Guy?

Who needs TARP to bail out financial institutions? Your local supermarket carries a retail version at the checkout counter. We know the program as “gift cards.”Bailout Rip-Off

Last week while I was grocery shopping, the gift-card display piqued my curiosity. So I took a few minutes to read the fine print on back of several packages. The cards are all different. Here’s what I found on the $25 version from Visa.

You pay a 15.8 percent front-end fee.

The $25 card costs $3.95. And I thought 2009 bonuses were outrageous. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a 15.8 percent front-end load.

Beginning day 366, you lose 8 percent every month. Guaranteed.

That’s right. After month twelve, there is a $2 maintenance fee each and every month. The card zeros out in March 2012, assuming you buy it today and don’t make any purchases. The packaging says “valid thru 6/2013,” but fees have eaten all $25 given my assumptions. By the way, there’s a $5.95 “replacement fee.” And there’s a $15 “expired card” fee,” which make me wonder who’s getting the gift.

Hey, Visa, we know you’re a proud sponsor of the Olympics. Why don’t you give consumers a break and pull your gift cards from the shelves. And don’t blame them on MetaBank, the issuer. The fine print says you “license” the cards. Why sink this low?

Norb Vonnegut

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