The holidays are upon us and that means gift card season! Federal and state laws protect gift card recipients but be cautious when purchasing. Some gift cards and gift certificates contain high activation fees, dormancy charges, and expiration dates.
In Illinois, gift certificates must be valid for at least 5 years from date of issuance. Post-purchase fees are strictly prohibited and the face value of the gift certificate may not be reduced for non-use or untimely redemption.
Be aware that Illinois’ gift card rules don’t apply to bank-issued gift cards or pre-paid debit cards (Visa, American Express, etc.) Federal law governs those cards. Under the Credit Card Act of 2009, if the gift card isn’t used in a twelve-month period, a monthly inactivity fee may be charged, but only if disclosed clearly and upfront. And while expiration dates 5 years or more in the future are permitted, they can only be assessed if the expiration date terms are clearly and conspicuously stated.
ConsumersUnion® has a list of states and their card laws, available at http://consumersunion.org/research/state-gift-card-consumer-protection-laws-2013-update/. Be sure to check your state’s specific laws for more information.
In the meantime, read the fine print and make sure any expiration dates or inactivity fees are disclosed. This will help make sure your gift recipient can use and enjoy the card.