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Americans’ biggest tips last holiday season, a median of $50, went to housecleaners, who also were the most often tipped of the service providers covered in Consumer Reports’ nationally representative survey. Sixty-four percent of Americans who used housecleaners gave them money or a gift.

Least likely to be tipped: garbage collectors.

Consumer Reports looked at the numbers since it began this survey, when it asked about the 2005 holiday season, and found a decline in tipping in several categories in 2008, most likely due to the onset of the economic crisis. Overall, however, there has been little change year to year in the percentage of Americans who have tipped their various service providers.

Slightly more than half of respondents didn’t tip at least one of the providers whose services they used, and 39 percent didn’t tip any of those on Consumer Reports’ list. Some nontippers said they reward only exceptional service, and about one-fourth said they don’t tip at any time, period.

Be sure to check the gift-giving policy at a child’s school before giving teachers a present. And be aware that the U.S. Postal Service restricts the gifts that mail carriers can accept. Presents worth up to $20 are fine, but carriers can’t accept cash.

Here’s what people gave:

• Housecleaner. Cash, check, gift card: 53 percent. Gift: 15 percent. Nothing: 36 percent. Total value (median): $50.

• Lawn-care crew. Cash, check, gift card: 21 percent. Gift: 4 percent. Nothing: 75 percent. Total value (median): $25.

• Garbage collector. Cash, check, gift card: 7 percent. Gift: 3 percent. Nothing: 90 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Teacher. Cash, check, gift card: 16 percent. Gift: 35 percent. Nothing: 53 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Hairdresser. Cash, check, gift card: 38 percent. Gift: 9 percent. Nothing: 54 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Manicurist. Cash, check, gift card: 35 percent. Gift: 4 percent. Nothing: 61 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Newspaper carrier. Cash, check, gift card: 32 percent. Gift: 3 percent. Nothing: 65 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Pet-care provider. Cash, check, gift card: 29 percent. Gift: 5 percent. Nothing: 66 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Mail carrier. Cash, check, gift card: 13 percent. Gift: 8 percent. Nothing: 79 percent. Total value (median): $20.

• Barber. Cash, check, gift card: 35 percent. Gift: 4 percent. Nothing: 61 percent. Total value (median): $10.

What about tipping during the rest of the year? Consumer Reports offers this advice.

• Hotels. The amounts you tip at a hotel should match the level of accommodations. For example, you should tip more at a Four Seasons property than at a Holiday Inn. Some luxury hotels and resorts may also add a service charge to your entire bill, which precludes tipping the pool attendants and maids. Make sure to ask the front desk about such policies in advance. And if possible, try to hand the tip to the employee in person.

• At sea. Some large cruise lines have an automatic gratuity program, which bills your shipboard account at the beginning of a cruise based on the recommended tipping amounts for stateroom and restaurant staff. But here’s an important note: Cruise lines that do this will give you the option of increasing, decreasing or eliminating those charges with a visit to the front desk or purser’s office. If you eliminate the automatic charge, you can distribute tips personally to various staff members at the end of the cruise, as you would on ships without an automatic gratuity program.

• Overseas. Tipping practices vary widely from country to country. It can pay to read up before you go. Most guidebooks include information about tipping. A general rule: If there is no service charge or you think it is too low, tip as you would in the U.S.