A YouGov survey recently showed that 29% of people have received a gift card they never used. Another 20% receive gift cards and forget to use them. Millions and millions of dollars are wasted this way and Christmas gift cards are no different. So, if you’ve stumbled across an old gift card, you may be wondering whether or not you can still use it or even regift it this year. Here’s what you need to know about expiration dates and gift card laws.
Check Christmas Gift Cards For “Hidden” Rules
About 42% of people who receive gift cards as presents use it right away. However, if you’re not able to use yours right away, you may want to check for any rules associated with the card. By law, gift cards cannot expire in less than five years. There may be fees for not using the card though, which will be outlined in the fine print on the card or within the paperwork that comes with it.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (the CARD Act). This law was designed to protect consumers from credit card companies but it also included laws for companies that sell gift cards.
Gift Card Laws
As mentioned above, although gift cards cannot expire in less than five years, you may be subjected to non-use fees and other fees. Below are the rules companies must adhere to.
- Gift cards cannot expire in less than five years. You have five years after the date of activation to use your gift card. For the most part, companies will print the expiration date on the card itself. However, after the law was passed, most companies did away with expiration dates altogether. To be sure you understand your card’s expiry information, read the front and back of the card closely.
- Non-use fees cannot be applied until one year has passed. Gift card companies used to immediately begin charging monthly fees if you didn’t use the card right away. The law passed in 2009 made it so they would not be able to charge inactivity or service fees until the card had been unused for at least one year. Additionally, no more than one non-use fee can be applied per month.
- Activation and reload fees are legal as long as they are properly disclosed prior to purchase. Make sure you read your card for any activation or reload fees. Disclosure of these fees is required by law.
- Promo gifts cards and prepaid phone cards are not covered under the Obama-era laws. Prepaid phone gift cards, promotional Christmas gift cards (or other promos), and paper gift certificates (usually used with small businesses) are not covered under these rules. It is important to use these cards ASAP as they can expire and often have strict expiration rules.
State Law Differs
Many states have also put laws into action to protect consumers buying gift cards as well. It is important to note these laws take precedence over the law signed by President Obama. Californians, for instance, can cash out gift cards that are less than $10 and any store-issued gift card cannot expire.
Using Your Gift Card
If you are one of the 20% who typically forgets to use your gift cards, consider putting them in your wallet in front of your most-used card. This will remind you that you have the option to use the gift card instead. You can also set up shopping plans and lunch/dinner plans with store and restaurant-specific cards to make sure they get used.
All in all, it is important to carefully read your Christmas gift cards and any other gift cards you receive to see when they might expire (if they do). This will keep you from wasting money and make the most of your gift.
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