For many holiday shoppers, gift cards are a welcome relief. For many recipients, the cards are an even bigger bonanza: no more sweaters that don’t fit, games that are no fun and decorations that don’t match anything.
The biggest gripe about gift cards is that they can be perceived as “impersonal,” but impersonal beats unusable by a mile.
But, recently, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued a warning for everybody who has received a gift card for Christmas and now contemplates how and, most importantly, when to redeem it: Scour the print on the gift card to learn whether it has an expiration date and associated fees.
DiNapoli notes that, while some merchants have done away with inactivity fees on their gift cards, many have not. You may unwittingly be under a deadline to redeem the card.
Failure to be prompt may result in you having to pay a late fee or even miss your chance entirely to collect on the card.
Often, the comptroller says, cards specify that they must be redeemed within a year, or else an inactivity fee will be assessed or the card may even no longer be usable.
This may seem out of sync with common sense, but many cards expire before they are spent. In that case, money from unused gift cards is turned over the State Comptroller’s Office as abandoned property after five years of no action.
In the fiscal year 2015-16, a staggering $11 million from gift cards was handed over to New York state’s Abandoned Property Fund.
It’s hard to imagine that any recipient of a card would rather have the state wind up with the money than find a way to spend it himself or herself.
The Federal Credit Card Act of 2009 prohibited inactivity fees on many cards sold after Aug. 22, 2010, unless the card has gone unredeemed for at least 12 months.
But, because of that law, all terms, conditions and limitations must be printed directly on the cards, and the cards are not allowed to expire within the first five years after purchase.
Still, gift cards may have terms that decrease their value, including service fees when the card is purchased; dormancy fees if the gift card is not used within a certain period of time; fees to call and check the balance remaining on the card; and replacement fees for lost or stolen gift cards.
DiNapoli’s office is currently holding more than $14.5 billion in unclaimed funds from uncashed checks, bank accounts, stocks and more. To find out if you are owed money, visit www.osc.state.ny.us.
Meanwhile, go out and redeem those gift cards. Better that you have the merchandise or money than sharing it with 17 million other New Yorkers.