Gift cards pack more benefits this holiday season

The debut of newer and more secure chip-enabled credit cards, known as EMV cards, along with a decline in gift card fees are apparently creating a winning combination for U.S. consumers as the holiday shopping season approaches.

A new Bankrate.com report noted that half of all the gift cards now have security codes, which gives the purchaser the option of protecting the balance on those cards if they're lost or stolen. Last year, in comparison, that feature was available on only around one-third of gift cards.

The Bankrate.com survey of 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. also included a review of terms and conditions of 60 widely used gift cards. It found those cards are still one of the most popular purchasing choices for Americans of all income levels.

According to the survey, more than three-quarters of Americans have given someone a gift card, while 83 percent have received one. The most common card value given by consumers is between $25 and $50.

And this year, 72 percent of gift cards have some form of loss or theft protection, up from 68 percent in 2014. A majority of those gift cards, 67 percent, are also available as e-cards, which can add a layer of security for consumers.

"With so many recent data breaches and the transition to EMV chip credit cards, security is top of mind for many Americans," Bankrate.com banking analyst Claes Bell said in a statement. "Retailers are taking note and have made gift cards a much safer way to spend money."

Of course, that security and convenience has a price. All gift cards examined in the Bankrate.com report had purchase fees of anywhere from $3.95 to $6.95. But the report also found that just 13 percent of the gift cards surveyed this year came with a fee, compared to 17 percent last year. And just 8 percent of those cards had any kind of expiration date.

"Gift card gotchas are much rarer than they used to be," added Bell. "Everyone should still do their research before making a purchase. But generally, consumers don't have to worry about being swindled when buying or using a gift card from a major bank or retailer."