Gift Cards: If You Have One from Last Year, Better Use It Now

Gift Cards: If You Have One from Last Year, Better Use it NowFor the last-minute holiday shoppers, there is nothing easier than picking up gift cards, whether they’re network-branded with the Visa or MasterCard logo or specific to a retail store.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is reminding Americans of laws regarding gift cards.
Here’s one you may not know: Federal rules say that gift cards cannot charge inactivity or service charges for 12 months. After that first year, these fees could start to eat away at your card’s value.  So if you have one from last Christmas, you better get to a store pretty quick.
If you find a gift card that has an expiration date, call the phone number on the card to see if the funds are still available.
Federal law says that a gift card cannot be sold that will expire in less than five years. If funds are still available to you, a new card must be issued at no cost to you. Your state may provide additional protections and rights.
Here are other things to keep in mind about gift cards, according to the CFPB:
• Gift cards should spell out what fees they charge, so read the fine print. For example, even though the federal rules are the same for all gift cards, additional policies may be set by the merchant or bank issuing the card. Be sure you understand these policies.
• What happens if you lose your card or if it’s stolen? Some issuers, like stores, might not replace them. Other issuers might replace the card, but only if you registered it before it was lost or stolen. Use the card sooner, rather than later. Take my word for it, these cards can be easily misplaced and forgotten.
• Write down the card number, security code, and customer service phone number and keep them in a safe place.
• Treat the card like cash, especially if the issuer will not replace it, and keep your card until you are sure you will not be making any returns. Some merchants require that refunds be added back to the card.

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