Dear Harry:

In years gone by, I have often used gift cards as Christmas presents. My son just told me that they are not the best thing to give. He said that last year's card diminished in value each month that it wasn't used. In addition, it was difficult to use the last few bucks left on the card if you didn't use it all at once. Is all this true? Are all cards the same in this?

What Harry says: Not all gift cards are the same. Different issuers have different rules. Before you decide to use them, get the terms of use in writing from the issuer. There's another drawback. If the cards can be used at only one store or chain, the recipient could be hurt in case of a bankruptcy. Any unused amounts may cause the holder to have to get in line as creditors of the bankrupt company.

It is possible that the bankruptcy court will allow the cards to be used, but it is not certain. My view is that cash or checks beat gift cards any time. *

Write Harry Gross c/o the Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Harry urges all his readers to give blood - contact the American Red Cross at 800-GIVE LIFE.