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What Am I Supposed to Do With an American Express Gift Cheque?

Seriously. Last December, my hospital employer gave all of us $50 Amex “Gift Cheques.” Mine is sitting right in front of me as I ponder where in the world I’m going to use it and what I’m going to do with it.

Apparently, our employer thought that this would be a better idea than giving us gift-cards (ok, I’m with you on this I guess) because they can be theoretically used anywhere and don’t expire and better than an extra paycheck or an extra $50 in the paycheck. Um, no.

It’s certainly shiny, gold, and pretty, but it’s also sitting around and taunting me.

You see, I manage all my money either at ATMs or online. I use the self-check out (because I’m a good scanner from all the library work) and I always pay by debit card or cash (not check) to avoid holding up the line. Or I buy things online.

But this check must be received by a cashier, either at a bank or a store. It cannot be redeemed online or deposited into an ATM.

So what my employer gave me is actually a headache. One of these days, I suppose that I’m going to go to our fancier Giant (no difference in price but better selection and more helpful employees) at a less-busy time and use it. Apparently if I don’t spend the whole $50, I get the rest in cash, so at least it’s a one-time headache.

I prize efficiency and not getting in people’s way. I don’t want to use the bank because it’s very inefficient for me to drive across town. It’s also time-consuming since there’s always a line and I’ll be holding up the other people in that line just because my employer couldn’t put it with my regular paycheck or give me something I could use elsewhere. Or I’ll spend more time in line at the Giant and hold up people there as the clerk follows the redemption procedures. Heaven help us if I get a clerk that has no clue what to do with it (though the instructions are on the back).

What were you thinking, employer? I could have used this money months ago if only it had been in a check I could deposit or even an Amex gift card I could use. It would have cost you less to print the checks yourself and been less logistically difficult, I expect.

I have half a mind to take it to the library, use it to buy a $1.00 used book, and then get cash back from a sympathetic coworker. However, we rarely have more than $50 in our till, so that wouldn’t work.

I don’t like creating hassle in the world when I don’t have to. I don’t like it for me and I don’t like it for others. But if I want this $50, I have no choice.

So if you have thought of giving your friend, relative, or employee an American Express Gift Cheque, I strongly ask you to consider both these questions:

a) Do ALL the recipients frequently go to their banks?

b) Do ALL the recipients pay for things by check anyway?

If neither answer is yes, then abstain. Find another way to give the money. I would suggest giving cash (or a check) in one of those red envelopes if you want to make it look pretty and special. And if you’re an employer of thousands, I can guarantee that not all your employees do either. And that many handle their banking/spending the way I do.

And if you’ve been given an American Express Gift Cheque and ran across this article hoping to find a loophole, I’m sorry to report that there are none. You must use it in front of a clerk, you may not deposit it in an ATM or use it online.


{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

A.J. August 4, 2008 at 11:28 am

Treat yourself to something nice. Buy something pretty.

It’s what I would do. :)

Francois August 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Give it to your boss for his birthday. ;)

Francois August 4, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Also – my thoughts. Any gift card is actually a silly gift. Well intentioned, but silly.

It is in-effect a no-interest-loan you make to whoever you buy the gift-card from.

Not only that, but it is also a guaranteed profit for the store/institution you buy the gift-card from, because the card can only be used with that store.

It’s no small wonder stores like selling gift-cards so much!

Jesse August 4, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Feel free to send it to me ;)

Aryn August 4, 2008 at 1:23 pm

If you hit the grocery store on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the line will be very short, so you won’t have to worry about holding it up. I suggest using it when you need to stock up on detergents, paper towels, etc. It’s amazing how quickly you can burn through $50 when you’re not buying food!

Gretchen August 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm

While it may be a pain, it is better than having it added to your paycheck – then taxes would be taken out.

Jon August 4, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I don’t see why cashing it at a grocery store (by buying a sub $1 item) is *that* much trouble.

Caro August 4, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Gretchen hit the nail on the head. As a non-standard part of your paycheck, an extra $50 would be taxed as a bonus, so you would have more taken out of it than a normal paycheck. (You would get some of this additional back with your tax return, of course.)

In addition, often if you buy a lot of these sort of checks, you can get a deal on the fee they charge…and maybe that fee was less than the one on individual credit cards. And on top of that, some unions and such have policies on what sorts of gifts can be given to employees outside of payroll.

Not that it makes the gift check any less of a pain…but you’ll get to it eventually. I advise not worrying about the people behind you in line at the store. You can even go to customer service at the beginning of your shopping trip to make sure you know what the process is, and they may even be able to suggest the best, most experienced cashier to use to make things go smoother. Everyone understands sometimes there is a holdup for non-standard types of things. Anyone who is overly upset about it is either having a bad day having nothing to do with you, or is an unpleasant person anyway.

Rebecca August 4, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Take it to your bank to cash it. Then, you can save it or use it! :)

Laura In Atlanta August 4, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Redeeming with a cashier it doesn’t take THAT long . . . good grief. ;-) Go and spend it at Giant. Be happy . . . it’s $50! But yah . . . buck up and go to the bank and deposit there, sorry the drive is a long one . . . but goodness, it’s $50 smackeroos! It’s been sitting around since Christmas? Think of the interest it could have accrued if you deposited it! ;-)

deepali August 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Girl, are you complaining about free (and tax-free!) money? :) Send it to me, I’ll take care of it!

It’s not a major inconvenience at a grocery store really – but I like the idea posited above about asking the customer service people which line to use, etc. Most people wouldn’t be so considerate.

And if “across town” = “across the metro area”, then it’s not worth depositing it. You’ll probably pay $50 in stop-and-go traffic!

hank August 4, 2008 at 7:44 pm

I hear you on the “I do everything online” bit. I don’t have cash on hand ever. What I’d do is go through the standard grocery line, but the cheapest thing with the check and then the rest of the groceries with your card.

I go to a place that conveniently has an ATM at the store too, the remaining $ goes in there – one stop shopping… ;)

Evelyn August 5, 2008 at 7:56 am

Here is all I am getting out of your post today … you get $50 FREE money from your employer and you are complaining because you feel put out that you have to interact with a person to redeem the money. Yeah, I just don’t get your point. It’s FREE money.

Jenna August 5, 2008 at 9:58 am

Wow.

I would donate this. Find someone in a grocery store with three screaming kids and a look of I-just-can’t-deal-with-this-right-now.

You never know, that headache for you could be the nicest thing you could do for someone else!

C August 5, 2008 at 10:24 am

I agree with the others.
You’re actually complaining that your employer gave you $50?!?
So if it is such a burden… give it to someone who will appreciate it.

mrsmicah August 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm

It actually was taxed, which was the strangest thing. They gave me a paycheck for $0 with an attached stub saying that I was paid “x” amount which, minus taxes, came to $50. So payroll still had to deal with it. And it was taxed. That $0 check could have easily

Evelyn, I hope one takeaway is that people will consider ease of access when they give money. Like if you give someone a puppy…it’s FREE puppy, but it requires food and care and all kinds of hassle. In the long-run a check requires less effort, but it’s like being given a puppy and realizing that you now have to buy dog food and whatnot.

Beth August 6, 2008 at 10:34 am

Puhleeeaase!!! A puppy, A trip all the way across town to cash $50 is no where near the hassle.
I like the idea of donating it, since you obviously don’t need it (or appreciate it, give it to someone who would).

deepali August 6, 2008 at 5:07 pm

well, i think people are being a bit harsh, but there is a point here. if it were your paycheck or something you budgeted, it would definitely be a hassle. but since it is more like a windfall, you can decide how much of a hassle it really it is. too much, and you can give it away – you won’t miss it. but if you can use the extra $50, then yeah, suck it up and go to the grocery store. :)

fathersez August 7, 2008 at 4:32 am

At least it is a one time headache, and perhaps a small one.

Maybe your boss thought you needed to know that people actually go to banks…..hehe

I am sure your boss meant well.

Cheers

mrsmicah August 7, 2008 at 10:13 am

It’s kind of amusing to watch the vehemence of some of these reactions…my overall purpose in writing this was so that people searching and thinking about giving gift cheques would take a moment to evaluate whether the recipient will be able to use them easily or not. I’m sure some givers don’t even know the mechanics of cashing them.

And of course, that people who’d received them would be able to find accurate info about the only two ways you can use them (since I had to check online to find out that these really are the only two ways). Maybe even feel a little camaraderie if they felt this was a frustrating set-up.

I may have gotten a little bit…carried away…over something which has only mildly irritated me every time I see it and consider the 1+ hour round-trip to a bank (plus gas) or how I never feel like “today’s a good day to hold up a line!” However, I’ll probably either take it all to the fabric store and just buy myself quilting stuff or if I can’t bring myself to do that I’ll slip it (unsigned at all) in the offering plate at church. I’ve never signed it (which you do twice) on the off-chance that I’ll just give it away.

April October 6, 2008 at 5:22 pm

I just read this post, a few months after it was written, but I had a hard time with the AMEX checks, as well. We recieved two as wedding gifts, and while yes, any and all gifts are appreciated, we had a hard time with these because of all of the rules and regulations about how they can be cashed. Cash and checks were so much easier to deal with. We tried spending the AMEX checks at the grocery store, and each time it required a manager to come over and process the transaction, causing delays, holding up the line, etc.

Like I said, the gift was appreciated, but I don’t plan to ever buy one as a gift for someone else. Visa gift cards are much easier to use.

jc November 13, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Hi I’ve only just come across your problem and have a silmilar predicament. I am in the UK working for a US company and they gave me exactly the same ie $50 Amex gift cheque. How on earth am I meant to spend it? I have no idea if my bank will cash it either.
A very generous gift but has been gathering dust for 15 months!

steve December 30, 2008 at 5:57 pm

almost ANY store anywhere will take an AMEX gift check for payment and give you change. They will deposit it at their bank–no problem. So if you never actually buy groceries or get gas at the convenience store (which will take it at the counter as a prepay), then you have a problem. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to use an AMEX gift check.

Kathy February 12, 2009 at 10:52 am

Ive had the same problem – with a $100 gift cheque. I did decide to give it to the local hospice but they had so much trouble trying to cash it they gave it back to me – how bad do you think that made me feel? So I tried the PO and the Halifax Bank and neither would redeem it for me. I now have a hospice eagerly awaiting a sterling equivalent donation and I cant get it for them… any ideas?

tommy June 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

What an AWFUL employer you have giving you fifty dollars free… what a headache! Go ahead and don’t fill it out at all and just mail it to me – I will paypal you the funds for a stamp/envelope!

tommy June 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

What an AWFUL employer you have giving you fifty dollars free… what a headache! Go ahead and don’t fill it out at all and just mail it to me – I will paypal you the funds for a stamp/envelope!

amy August 11, 2009 at 9:43 pm

yes, give it back to your employer and ask him/her to never give you free money ever again!

Peter October 27, 2009 at 1:32 am

I have this same pain in the ass $50 gift check. I think i have had it for over 3 years now.

Tina Jones December 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

I don’t understand the people who say they have held on to them for 15 months or three years or whatever. In all that time you could never manage to make it the bank? Jeesh. Maybe you people should be happy anyone is giving you anything, since you don’t really sound like mental giants.

fab December 20, 2009 at 8:45 am

You shouldn’t be complaining. I received two U$100 Gift Cheques, but no bank accepts them: I’m in Brazil. Now, who’s got the problem? :)

Don January 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I would recommend spending that $50 on therapy to deal with your crippling xenophobia.

JF June 26, 2010 at 11:56 am

Deposit it into your checking account. Then spend where ever you want too!

Amber July 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Mrsmicah, your post was informative for me. I wanted to verify what the heck I could do with this check that I’ve had for FOUR YEARS. Like you, I only go to the bank once a year, and I keep forgetting to bring it. My bank will not accept the Amex Gift Cheque by mail (which is how I deposit all my other checks). I just got an Amex credit card so I was hoping to apply the dang thing to the account…but alas… Also like you, I’m not complaining about free money, but it’s ridiculous that I can’t use this online. Anyway, thanks for your post.

George September 9, 2011 at 9:44 am

All of you that have an amex gift cheque should use them the next time you go out to eat, many restaurants take them in the US as well as overseas (worth less of course) and that way you can treat yourself to a nice meal and enjoy the gift.

matt September 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Sorry to be so blunt here, but you sound like an ungrateful bitch. Maybe your boss shouldn’t have given your ass anything at all. Its really not that fucking hard to use one, just sign the god damn thing and hand it to them with your license, it takes 5 seconds. If your life is so fucking great that you have to whine about someone giving you FREE money.. then you have it pretty fucking good and need to shut the fuck up. OK that’s all. I just do not like ungrateful people, sorry.

Linda April 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Toyota Corp. sent me 2 Amer. Express gift cheques which was very nice on their part. They sent it to me for my inconvenience but now I cannot find a place to use the checks. My bank will not cash them and I have checked with various stores and they will not cash them. I even tried Walmart today and they refused. So…where can you cash these?

Cate June 4, 2012 at 8:30 am

You seriously spent more time writing this article than you would have in a regular checkout using your free money. Send it to a charity that won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Tracy November 19, 2012 at 10:45 am

I am sorry others are having the same problems I am having. I even got on the American Express website and they say the checks are accepted everywhere. I want to know where this everywhere is. I just spent money at Target and was told they do not accept them. This was after the person went and asked management. So all of you people thinking that this is wonderful and nice they are not. It is up to the retailer to accept and I haven’t found one yet. Check cards I never have a problem with, but these cheques I seem to always do. I really appreciate recieving it, but it is not as easy to redeem as one would hope. So for Christmas either send someone a gift CARD or in the words of Clark Howard be crass and give cash.

Twine April 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

WTH good are they if you can’t use them online?! With more and more people ordering online today, this is crazy! I went searching to see if I could use mine online to buy something, and when I didn’t see a proper box to enter a code that’s not even on the cheque (the code the companies want), I then did a search online and that’s how I got here.

Cyn April 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

I also received these as a holiday bonus at work. I spent mine at Walmart and they even gave me cash back for the remainder that was unused. The cashier did not know what to do with them, but the manager advised her to treat them like cash because they are essentially prepaid. I found them to be easy to use and appreciated the gift.

Jenn July 5, 2013 at 7:26 pm

When I receive these cheques from my employer, taxes ARE taken out of my paycheck. I recently received $300 worth of these, but my boss didn’t see me to give them to me for a couple weeks, and I didn’t know I was getting them, so my paycheck was $100 less than it usually is. I was confused and couldn’t figure out why, until he gave me these cheques and I realized it was the taxes on them. I’m not complaining, because even if I have to pay taxes on them it’s still some extra money, but I guess I just don’t see what the advantage is to these over money added to the paycheck in this case. I just take them to the bank and deposit them with the teller.

Bryn October 26, 2013 at 6:04 am

Hello,
I received $250 in American Express gift checks last year for winning an award at my company and let me tell you they are NOT as easy as they make it seem. I tried to use mine at a very busy Apple Store to purchase an iPad. Managers had to be called to figure out if they would accept them and how they could even do the transaction. Even the managers had a difficult time figuring it all out. The process took a good hour and a half but I was finally able to make my purchase. I ended up returning my iPad as the new one came out a few days after initial purchase. Not only could I not do an easy return, apple made me pay for my new iPad upfront with my own money and then they had to mail me my refund for the original iPad. I didn’t get my money for over a month.

Needless to say, I have never found these easy to use. I just won the same award again this year and was given another $250 in AMX gift checks. While I worked very hard to win that award I do wish they could realize that our world doesn’t use checks anymore… We use plastic.. If I were a company giving out gifts, bonuses, or awards… Give your employee American Express Gift CARDS… They are easily used in stores and online.

I’m happy with the $250 that I earned but I admit in this day and age… Checks just aren’t a easy thing to use but plastic is.

Great post. Many of commenters think you’re just being selfish, but I totally get it. You’re grateful but confused as to how to use it as the other retailers when get this as a payment.

Richard December 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I just came upon this article and it is spot on regarding “the mechanics of cashing them”.
I live in a remote small town way back in the mountains. There is literally NO place for me to cash this check within 300 miles. I called the company and asked if they could send me a debit gift card which I could use online and they refused.
I have had this check for 3 years !
Lucky for me they never expire so if I ever leave the state and travel somewhere that redeems these checks, I can finally get my GIFT !

Rich January 22, 2014 at 11:29 am

Just got 2 $25 gift checks. Got the money back after buying a cheap item at Walmart for 1 of them. They called for an override like they typically do if you have to void an item. Took less than 2min. Will do the same with the other one. Stop making a big deal out of using them. It’s not difficult. This not the 1st one I’ve had & most restaurants (not fast food joints) take them with no problem. Any place that accepts travelers checks accepts these.

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