Picking the best gift card this holiday season

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Giving a gift card can guarantee that the recipient gets something they want

Online student loan marketplace LendEDU has ranked the best gift cards, pointing out the attributes that make one gift card a better choice than another.

Three of the top five on the list are restaurant gift cards. Scored on factors of popularity among consumers, purchase discount for buyers, resale value for sellers, and shipping charges, LendEDU rates the McDonald's gift card number one.

It's followed by gift cards for video game retailer GameStop, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Victoria's Secret.

Gift cards have long been popular with both consumers and retailers. For the gift-giver, choosing a gift card takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. The recipient is assured of getting something he or she really wants.

Merchants like gift cards because it's an instant sale, with the chance it will never have to provide anything in return. According to LendEDU, roughly $1 billion in gift cards sold last year were not redeemed.

Importance of versatility

If you plan to give gift cards this year, LendEDU research analyst Mike Brown says you should ask yourself some questions first.

"The most important question to consider when buying a gift card is this: Is it versatile?" he told ConsumerAffairs.

"You want to get a gift card that will give the gift-receiver many options. For example, an Amazon gift card can essentially buy you anything, but a Chick-Fil-A gift card will only be able to buy you some chicken."

Resale value

Another important consideration, Brown says, is a gift card's resale value. The recipient might rather sell the card for cash on one of the many gift card exchanges. The most popular gift cards often sell for 80 to 90 cents on the dollar, while less popular cards can go for half their face value or less.

Cards with the highest resale value include Shell (gas), Walmart, Target, Mastercard, and Home Depot, according to independent research.

A LendEDU poll of consumers found that 78.7 percent of consumers plan on giving at least one gift card this holiday season and 75.6 percent of consumers would rather receive a gift card than an actual gift.

The survey also found that just over a third of consumers have "re-gifted" a gift card -- giving a card they received as a present to someone else.

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