When you get a Visa credit or debit card, you don’t get it from Visa – you get it from an issuing bank, credit union or other financial institution that is part of the Visa network. Visa gift cards, however, come from one of Visa’s authorized card vendors.
Gift cards work like credit cards in some ways, debit cards in others and as a third form of plastic payment, based on the differences between gift cards and credit and debit cards. You can purchase several different versions of Visa gift cards. Reviewing how they work will help you choose and use them so you get the most benefit.
How Are Gift Cards Different?
Credit cards let you spend money you don’t have because the card issuer offers to extend you credit. Of course, you’ll have to pay it back, and you’ll have limits on your spending, be subject to fees, have to pay all or part of your balance monthly and might earn rewards.
Debit cards are usually tied to a checking or savings account. You can spend as much as you have in your account, but once your money’s gone, that’s it – no one lends you any more money. Prepaid debit cards have a set limit and aren’t tied to a checking or savings account, so you don’t get the typical account privileges and perks you do with a standard debit card.
Gift cards are more like cash or checks. You purchase a gift card for a specific amount, the card then has that set amount of spending power and you decrease its value each time you use it. Unlike regular gift cards that can only be used at the issuer’s place of business (e.g., an Amazon or McDonald’s gift card), Visa gift cards can be used at any retailer that accepts Visa.
Read More: What Is a Debit Card?
Reloadable and Static Plastic Cards
You can buy Visa gift cards that have a set amount, or you can personalize a card, choosing an amount you want. You buy gift cards sold by different merchants and choose the Visa gift card amounts you want. Some online merchants let you personalize the card with your business logo or photograph (for added security). In some cases, you can reload a personalized Visa gift card, which is convenient if you want to use it on a regular basis.
You can visit the Visa website or online at third-party gift card websites like GiftCards.com or Walmart. Once you get your card, make sure you register it. This will allow you to stop the card from being used if it’s lost or stolen. You’ll need the card number and PIN to have the card frozen and get a replacement card. If you go to Visa’s website, it provides links to eight different authorized Visa gift card partners.
Read More: How to Buy Visa Gift Cards
Digital Visa Gift Cards
Another convenient way to give a thoughtful gift is with a non-plastic, digital gift card. You buy a Visa Gift card online and have it sent directly to your giftee’s email account or phone. She can then make a purchase and pay with her code.
Be aware that the retailer’s fine print might allow them to send promotional texts and emails to your friend or family member. These latter types of cash cards often come with a Visa gift card activation fee (around $5), so be aware of that, if you’re giving one as a gift.
Steve Milano has written more than 1,000 pieces of personal finance and frugal living articles for dozens of websites, including Motley Fool, Zacks, Bankrate, Quickbooks, SmartyCents, Knew Money, Don't Waste Your Money and Credit Card Ideas, as well as his own websites.