Planning on presenting any gift cards this holiday season? When you're filling out that heartfelt card, leave room for all the caveats.

Your lovingly purchased gift could end up worth less than the plastic it's made from if the recipient waits too long to use it. The value can start to plummet as soon as six months after the purchase. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) charges a $2.50 monthly maintenance fee after six months. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) hits you with $1 per month after 24 months of card inactivity.

Bah humbug, indeed.

Even recipients are guilty of leaving cash on the table. According to Consumer Reports' research, consumers fail to redeem about 10% of the money on gift cards. With gift-card sales expected to exceed $45 billion this year, that means $4 billion in wasted Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) gingerbread lattes, Home Depot (NYSE:HD) shop vacs, and Target (NYSE:TGT) checkout-line frivolities.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of that gift card:

  1. When purchasing a gift card, pick out a place where you know your loved one will shop. You don't want those dollars to go un-redeemed.

  2. If visions of cash dance in your head, shop for a cash card from Visa or MasterCard -- some include a PIN so your cuz can get cash at the ATM.

  3. Read the fine print and look for fees, such as ones charged for inactivity or checking your balance. Some banks also charge a fee when issuing the card.

  4. Treat your cards like cash. If you lose it, then you may be out the entire value. Still, many national retailers will replace a lost card (for a fee, of course) if you can document the card's purchase and provide the ID number. That's why Consumer Reports recommends that you keep the receipt, and write down all pertinent information.