How To Keep Your Gift Cards and Certificates From Expiring

We ended up getting a huge Macy’s gift card for our wedding three years ago, and were dismayed when we realized that after 2 years it had died with about $100 still on it. The problem was that for a long time the closest Macy’s was an hour’s drive away, and every time we went we wanted to spend it all, but just couldn’t bring ourselves to buy junk we really didn’t need. The card had been sitting in my desk gathering dust until I remembered that gift cards and certificates aren’t allowed to expire in California. So I sent the card to my friend in San Francisco, they brought it into Macy’s, and after a quick phone call by the clerk a brand new gift card was re-issued. It was resurrected! I let her use it. :)

I’m not sure if this will work everywhere, but my friend and I mused that this could potentially be a business idea – “Send us our expired gift cards and we will save them… for a fee.”

Here’s are some links to states that I found with laws that restrict the expiration of gift cards, either with a minimum lifetime of X years or by banning expiration entirely – California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Washington. Let me know if I missed any.

Comments

  1. You know what, thats actually a great business idea lol. I wasn’t aware of that law. I’m in San Francisco, I need to dig up my old expired gift cards, I know I have some laying around. Thanks for post Jonathan.

  2. small typo: “I?m not sure if will work everywhere”

    But anyway, This was pretty handy. I run into this problem _All The Time_.. :( Too bad I don’t live in one of those states.

  3. Thanks, fixed. Time to make some new penpals ;) Or just remember to bring them with you when you travel later.

    I just noticed that none of the states are from the mid-west. Call your senators!

  4. That’s got to be the most annoying thing when you’re ready to use the gift card only to find out that chunks of it have been taken away every month or when you have nothing on the card.

  5. I had this problem last year. One of my gift cards expired. (I got it from Comcast.) I called the number on the back of the card and told them I am a WA resident. I did not have to tell them my address or telephone number. They told me that I can use my card now. I went to use it and it worked.

  6. Or you can just sell it on ebay duh!

  7. I meant sell it on ebay before it expires

  8. There is another trick they use to expire them…Basically, after a certain amount of time, they begin charging a fee for the account. So, the fee will slowly eat into your balance.

    This was the case for a $50 AMEX gift card I received. I used it quick :)

  9. Mark Rosner says:

    This is a very interesting thought and I’ve extended it a bit with some background on the gift card exchanges that are out there… link

  10. If you don’t have a friend you may want to try a card exchange service. I have never done this but saw something written about it once. See http://www.cardavenue.com/. A quick google search returned several others.

  11. Gift cards are of the devil. I end up selling them on craigslist or ebay for 70-80% of their value to buy groceries or things that I need. I don’t shop at trendy overpriced stores like Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn. (I got married a year ago and got many gift cards to fancy places where we weren’t registered).

    If I don’t sell the gift cards to the fancy stores, I re-gift. That’s another good option.

  12. Selling on eBay or other swap sites is cool, but I should have made the title more explicit – this way you can save them after they have already expired.

    Very interesting discovery, Paul!

  13. Like a lot of the commenters above, I sell my gift cards on eBay ASAP. You’d be surprised how many people will buy a gift card if you knock off like 1 or 2 dollars.

  14. Albrecht says:

    What I do, besides re-gifting (and actually before the re-gifting too):
    Go to the store. Buy a new card by using the old card. As a result 1) the expiration / fees deadlines are pushed x number of months 2) The card is clean with no purchasing history
    3) the amount on it is rounded up to the nearest acceptable numbers.

    And the final thought: People, give cash to each other!

  15. Nony-mouse says:

    Jonathan,

    Sometimes I dont understand u….

    Is this ethical?

  16. Maryland law went in to effect last year:

    A new Maryland law restricting fees and expiration dates on some gift cards took effect in 2006, but consumers should be wary, as not all gift cards are entirely free of fees.

    The law, passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2005, only applies to gift cards issued by retailers. Those issued by banks and malls – the fastest growing segment of the gift card industry – will be exempt from the law.

  17. toasty aroma says:

    “Jonathan,

    Sometimes I dont understand u?.

    Is this ethical?”

    why wouldn’t it be?? cash doesn’t expire, and someone paid cash for the gift certificate.. so why should a gift certificate expire? if anything, it’s unethical on the part of the company.

  18. I used to work for the PA State Treasury – Bureau of Unclaimed Property. In PA, all “expired” gift cards were to be turned over to our Bureau by the business who issued the card. It was our job to track down the rightful owners. This was also the case for dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks and other “abandoned” property. I worked in the compliance unit and informed PA businesses their reporting requirements for gift certificates and gift cards. The problem we ran into is that business owners could not provide a name, address or SS number for the person receiving the card (no businesses ever ask you for the recipient’s information)- thusly it became impossible to track down the rightful owners. We strongly encouraged business owners to not issue gift cards with expiration dates on them and that it would make good business sense to allow individuals to redeem at any time. Each state has its own Unclaimed Property division that is sitting on millions of dollars of unclaimed assets. Those departments are a good resource in seeking assistance in resolving issues concerning expired gift cards. I know I personally made a number of calls to businesses after receiving calls from citizens who had expired gift card and we were able to work it over the phone. If not, I told the business I would be sending them a reporting form for them to fill out and to report all unclaimed property. I would encourage everyone to check with their state’s Unclaimed Property division to see if they are the rightful owners of any assets the state is holding for them. And never pay a third party for this information, all can be obtain for free by contacting the bureau.

    Just an insider?s two cents worth -

  19. Nony-mouse says:

    Toasty,

    When u purchase a gift card, you are clearly presented with rules about the gift card, hence it does expire unless state laws prohibit it.

  20. Toasty, if this isn’t ethical, I guess the state of California’s laws are unethical. He gave a GIFT card to a friend in a state where they legally can’t expire. I happen to agree that it is slimy the way these things expire/fee charge, but even if it weren’t slimy at all, that’s the law in that state.

  21. Don’t buy gift cards unless it’s to save 3 cents per gallon at the pump and you plan on using it right away. Cash is legal tender for all debts public and private, gift cards are not legal tender….they are gift cards. I’d rather give a friend 100 dollars in cash than 100 dollars on a gift card.

  22. I wonder if anyone is still looking at this topic. We live in Maryland and I see Joe says above that retailers are prohibited from using expiration dates. We have just tried to use a card that expired in December, issued by a stand-alone Maryland retailer and were refused. Can anyone give me any more information on the Maryland law or advise where I can find it on line. Thanks.

  23. Richard,

    Here’s a link to the info. from the Maryland Attorney General:
    http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/125.pdf

  24. I know this link is pretty old by now, but wanted to offer an update to this link:

    I had a $25 AMEX giftcard that I tried to use, but the card had expired 6 months prior. I was at first a little angered, as in my state, Massachusetts, gift cards are not allowed by law to expire (at least for 7 years). I searched on line, and discovered on the AMEX website, it states “In addition, the funds on the Amex gift card will never expire, so there’s no pressure on the recipient to use up the balance before a certain date.” (http://www.rewardscards.com/AMEX-Gift-Card.asp).
    I immediately called the AMEX phone number on that back of the card, and was inforemed that the current balance was still $25. I spoke with an AMEX customer service rep and explained my issue and what the website states, and she kindly explained that while the FUND BALANCE does NOT expire, the CARD DOES expire. After taking my information and verifying where and when the card was purchased, I was told that a new card would be mailed to me with the full $25 balance.

    Overall, I felt that AMEX was helpfull and was releived to discover that I still have my full balance on the card. However, it is still to be seen if and when the card arrives.

    A simple way to prevent all this headache – use the card as soon as possible, or give cash.

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