Gift cards are so popular. They’re quick, convenient–and you can be sure the recipient will get something they like. Gift cards aren’t perfect, however, and they come with their own set of potential annoyances.
Gift card terms and conditions are regulated by state and federal laws. Under the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure act (CARD Act), gift cards are required to be good for at least five years. The expiration date is required to be printed on the card, in capital letters in at least ten-point font. If an expiration date is not given in this format on the card, the card will be valid until it is redeemed or replaced. In Louisiana, gift cards and gift certificates are regulated under RS 51:1423. This law makes it unlawful for retailers to charge you service fees for using gift cards – this includes dormancy fees. For example, it is unlawful for a retailer to charge you a fee for each transaction or for checking your card’s balance. They can, however, charge you a one-time handling fee, but this cannot be more than one dollar per card. There are a few exceptions to this rule – gift cards or certificates given as part of an awards loyalty or promotion program, where no money was exchanged for the card, gift certificates sold below face value or donated to charities or nonprofits for fund raising purposes, and gift cards useable by multiple retailers. General use prepaid cards issued by banks are also not covered by these rules.
Remember, though, that if a gift card is not registered or used within three years of the date it was issued (beginning on December 31 of the year it was issued), then it is considered abandoned property. While the card may have a lifespan of at least five years, you have to register or use it at least once in three years to keep it from being considered abandoned.
What can you do with a gift card you don’t want? Let’s say you have a gift card for a pet store, but you don’t have any pets. Some states require retailers to let you redeem the card for its cash value if only a small amount (typically under ten dollars) is on the card. Louisiana is not one of those states. If you wish to return or exchange a gift card as you would any other gift, it’s best to make sure you keep the receipt. Keep this in mind when buying a gift card for someone. Different retailers will have different policies for returns, so be sure to ask when purchasing the card. There are also several websites that allow you to trade gift cards with others, or even sell an unwanted card for a percentage of its face value. You won’t get the full value of the card, but a small amount of cash is better than several dollars worth of goods you don’t need or want.
If you lose a gift card, most stores will have a 1- 800 number you can call to cancel the card and have a new one issued. This number will be available at the store or on their website. Some retailers will require you to come into the store for the new card. Others will do it over the phone. In Louisiana, retailers are not able to charge you a fee beyond a one dollar service charge for issuing a new card. Other options include contacting your bank or credit card company if you bought a card online that did not arrive or relying on homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to replace the card.
Gift cards are popular for a reason. While they are quick and convenient, common issues like losing the card or having to return it often keep them from being less than perfect. Knowing the laws and regulations that apply to them, as well as the policies of the stores that sell them, will help you take full advantage of all the benefits gift cards have to offer.