November 24, 2008

Card sharps

A co-worker received a scare-mail purporting to list stores that will close by the end of the year, thereby making their outstanding gift cards worthless. She wanted to know if it was true whether all the stores listed were really going bankrupt.

My co-workers often ask me such questions because I often have a ready answer.

Well, I must admit to not having memorized the names of all the retailers that have already declared bankruptcy. And I surely won't venture, as the generator of the aforementioned e-mail message did, to predict the future.

The simple answer is this: A bunch of retailers have already declared bankruptcy. A bunch more are likely to follow before the year is over. The folks at Snopes have done way more research on the topic than I care to.

In the present economic climate, I refuse to guess which store's gift cards won't turn out to be worthless. Because were I to name Some Big-Box Store—one with great sales numbers and a seemingly solid balance sheet—surely it would be the next one to make headlines, dragged down by hitherto unknown investments in subprime mortgage derivatives.

I will say this: I'm intrigued by this CNN story about charitable gifts. Charity Navigator's Good Cards look like an especially pragmatic answer to the annual quandary about what to buy for people who, as one friend of mine put it, "don't need one more thing to dust."

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