Do you owe a holiday tip? Get answers from an etiquette expert

Tipping. It can be a touchy and personal subject, especially during the holidays.

Are you obliged to give a tip or gift to someone who has provided you personal services throughout the year?

"Anytime you have someone that's special to you, that's done a great job and continues to do a great job, it's very nice to recognize them in some way," said Colleen Harding, director of the Cleveland School of Etiquette and Corporate Protocol in Cleveland, Ohio.

Harding said an additional 15 to 20 percent tip at the holidays is appropriate for a service provider who has given "better-than-average" service throughout the year. Such providers might include a maid, hairdresser, landscaper or pet-sitter.

But what if you just don't have more cash to give?

"Anytime you receive a gesture of goodwill, it is a tip," Harding said. "It is a 'thank you', it is someone taking the time to show some gratitude for good service."

Also, be advised that U.S. Postal Service regulations limit the value of any gift a mail carrier may receive to $20.

Finally, did you know that giving a tip to a business owner has long been considered to be in poor taste?

"You tip employees because they don't get to keep all of the money (profits), if you tip an owner, it's almost like calling them an employee," Harding said.

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