Five Tips to Keep in Mind When Using Gift Cards

Some information to consider when it comes to gift cards

Santa’s work is done, he and his reindeer have flown back to the North Pole and somewhere in the pile of empty boxes, tissue paper and holiday card envelopes you have a stack of gift cards from your favorite retailers. 

Amongst my friends and family, I have developed a reputation as a coffee fanatic—and so I find myself with a handful of glorious, delicious and caffeine infused Starbucks gift cards. But for how long can I leave these cards in my desk drawer before I cash in on my prize? What if I lose them?

As with seemingly every consumer transaction these days, most people end up with more questions than answers. So, if you find yourself with a stack of gift cards this holiday season, here are some tips to keep in mind: 

IDENTIFY WHAT TYPE OF CARD YOU HAVE?  Do you have a retailer gift card or do you have a bank gift card? Retailer gift cards are those sold by individual retailers and restaurants which can be used for purchases only at that specific retailer. On the other hand, bank gift cards are like debit or credit cards and have the logo of a card network like MasterCard or Visa on them. These gift cards can be used wherever that debit/credit card is accepted.

FOR HOW LONG WILL MY GIFT CARD BE GOOD?  Under a 2010 Federal law, your balance on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased or additional money was added to the card. If the card is set to expire before the five year term, the balance can be transferred to a replacement card at no cost. If there is an expiration date, it must be clearly disclosed on the card.

CAN I BE CHARGED FEES?  If clearly disclosed on the card or its packaging, a retailer may charge an “inactivity fee”. To qualify, the card must have been unused for at least one year and any such fee can only be charged once in any given month. 

WHAT IF THE RETAILER GOES BANKRUPT?  These days it seems every day another iconic retailer goes belly up (think Borders Books, Circuit City, Comp USA, Linens & Things etc…). If you have a gift card from a retailer that files for bankruptcy, the card may still be honored. Alternatively, a competing retailer may agree to accept the floundering retailer’s gift cards. Call the bankrupt company often to see what options are available or your card may end up being worthless.

WHAT IF I LOSE MY GIFT CARD?  If your card is lost or stolen immediately report it to the retailer. Beware, some retailers may charge a fee to replace lost or stolen card or may not replace it at all. If they do agree to replace it, you may be required to show proof of purchase, so as always, hold on to your receipts.


Happy post-holiday shopping and remember: knowledge is power, so read the fine print!


About the Author

Robert Nahoum is a Hudson Valley attorney practicing consumer protection and general litigation in the Tri-State Area including New York City, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Bergen County New Jersey and Fairfield County Connecticut.  His practice includes consumer protection, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), debtor’s rights, debt defense, mortgage foreclosure and general civil litigation.

Robert J. Nahoum, Esq.
The Nyack Business Center
99 Main Street, Suite 311
Nyack, NY 10960-3109
Ph:     (845) 450-2906
Fax:   (888) 450-8640

Email: RJN@nahoumlaw.com
Web:   www.NahoumLaw.com


Knowledge is power and it is my intention to empower my readers to be victors instead of victims when the go out in the marketplace. 

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