Consumer Law

Gift Cards

With so many holiday celebrations, weddings, and birthday parties on the calendar, it's no surprise that gift cards have become extremely popular. Companies that sell gift cards have made additional income over the years just from consumers losing cards, throwing them out when the balance is low, and charging fees consumers weren't aware of. In recent years, this practice has caught the attention of legislators. The federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 and many state laws now regulate gift card fees.

Gift Cards May Charge a Variety of Fees

Before purchasing a gift card, make sure to read the terms of any agreement attached to it. This may be on the company's website or enclosed with the card's packaging. Many cards charge a fee to the purchaser on top of the purchase price. Gift card companies commonly charge fees for each transaction, for not using the card over a specified period of time, and even for checking your balances. Since each state creates its own gift card laws, some or all of these fees may not be permissible.

Keep a Record of Your Gift Card Purchases

The most convenient thing about gift cards is that anyone can use them. But this can make it hard to obtain a refund or replacement card when it's lost or stolen without proof of your purchase. Therefore, hold on to receipts until the gift card's balance is depleted. Otherwise, you'll get little help from the gift card company or the store where you purchased it.

Minimum Expirations Are Regulated by States

Many consumers end up forfeiting some of the money when their gift cards expire before the entire balance is used. The CARD Act of 2009 set a minimum expiration date of five years after activation. Individual states can pass laws that are more stringent and many require that minimum durations be conspicuously stated. California forbids expiration dates for gift cards.

Gift Card Balances May Be Redeemable

A number of states even protect those last few dollars that remain on your gift cards. Oregon, California, Rhode Island, and Colorado now require gift card companies to redeem remaining balances for cash when the balance falls below a certain amount.

A Consumer Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding gift cards can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a consumer lawyer.

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