Gift Cards Don’t Expire – Or Do They? A Recipe to Use it or Lose It

Using a gift card is easy. Waiting to use it may make it harder.  Why?  While there are a few federal  rules about gift card expiration, most vary from state to state.

Curious about what the law says about gift card expiration? If you like to read lots of legalese, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  website.  It explains in detail the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (a.k.a. Credit CARD Act).

In short, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “the CARD Act sets consumer protections for gift cards based on many state laws.” Bottom line?  The law provides that gift cards cannot expire within five years from the date they were activated.  However, the federal regulations give states a lot of wiggle room to make their rules for gift card expiration.

To be on the safe side, when you receive a gift card, do your best to use it within a year. That calls for a little advance planning.  For example, if you got a gift card for a friend or family member’s favorite restaurants, you can make a reservation to treat them on their birthday.  A gift card for a clothing brand? Check your closet and decide which seasonal outfits will need a refresh and put a future shopping date on your calendar.  If you’re planning a vacation, think about which of your gift cards would be helpful to have on your trip and store them in your suitcase.

For the electronically savvy, there are many to-do-list apps available that are perfect for keeping track of your gift cards.  Or, take a picture of each of your gift cards (front and back), and create a separate album in your smart phone Photos. Online retailers only require the card number and PIN and some retailers will accept a photo instead of the physical card.

But,  if you’ve just unearthed an old gift card that you stashed in the back of your wallet or buried in a drawer, your first step will be to google your state’s regulation.  For example, in Florida, gift cards have no expiration dates and no fees, but that does not cover promotional cards, or cards issued by financial institutions and usable at multiple unaffiliated merchants.

On the other hand, New York states that expiration dates and any fees that will be charged along with other terms and conditions must be clearly and conspicuously stated on the card, package, or accompanying printed document.

If you have a question about your state’s rules on gift card expiration, you can do a simple search online.  Even better, call the number on the back of your gift card – or contact the merchant directly – and ask whether there is a usable balance on your gift card.

Better still, remember to use your gift card BEFORE it gets lost or forgotten.  Whether your state has a “use it or lose it” law on the books, you can be sure that when it comes to gift cards, if you lose it, you’ll definitely not be able to use it.

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