U.S. Postal Service to Sell Gift Cards

You know the U.S. Post Service is in pretty mean straights when they start selling gift cards.

Actually, this may not be a bad idea for the cash-strapped government agency. With pre-paid gift cards one of the most popular gift items, it makes sense postal officials would want to cash in on this trend. Plus, it allows the agency to target a desirable audience and encourage use of snail mail (a term the USPS prefers we not use).

For example, you could send an Internet-phobic friend or relative a gift card to buy stamps for their personal mail. Since you can buy stamps through the mail or order them online, it would particularly help shut ins. The cards also would make good presents for those who send lots of holiday cards and thank you notes.

The cards to be offered are known as "open loop" cards, which consumers can use with any business that accepts cards from the issuing organization. The agency also is considering offering "closed loop" cards, which are specific to a single merchant. Plans for this option have not yet been solidified.

The sales plan has only recently been approved on a test basis by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. It allows the USPS to run a two-year test beginning in June and involving about 2,000 post offices. The cards will be issued by such companies as American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa for fixed amount cards of $20 and $50. Variable-value cards also will be available, in which the buyer can designate the total they'd like loaded onto the card, in amounts between $25 and $100. The agency will charge a fee of $4.95 for a fixed-amount card and $5.95 for variable cards.

Cards will only be available from postal clerks, so the purchaser will have to make their way to a USPS outlet. If all goes as planned, the postal service will expand the program to include several thousand more offices.