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Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws

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Ever since Liz Pulliam Weston wrote about gift cards being the lazy way out, it’s been covered by other very capable bloggers ad infinitum. But what may not have been covered are the state laws that protect consumers when it comes to gift card rules. For example, did you know that in California you can’t have an expiration date or fee (excluding one special case)? The same no-expiration rule applies for many other states such as Connecticut and Hawaii. The Consumer Union has a complete list of state gift card laws as well as some other very useful resources.

The following is reprinted from the PDF I linked above, for those without Adobe Acrobat:

California: No expiration dates and no fees, with one exception. Permits a $1 per month fee only when the card has a balance of $5 or less, the card has been unused for 24 months, and the card is reloadable. Covers gift cards usable at a single store or chain. Multiple-use gift cards are not covered.

Connecticut: No expiration dates. No inactivity fees.

Hawaii: No expiration within the first two years. No fees. Effective July 1, 2005.

Illinois: Before Jan. 1, 2005, cards which do not have an expiration fee do not escheat to the state. Starting Jan. 1. 2005, cards must also have no service fees in order to avoid escheat.

Iowa: No fees unless there is a written contract between the card issuer and the holder of the gift card.

Louisiana: No expiration dates shorter than five years. No service fees, except for a one-time handling fee of $1. Covers cards issued to be redeemed in goods or services provided by the card seller.

Maine: No expiration dates. No fees unless printed on the card, allowed by written contract with the card owner, and not unconscionable.

Massachusetts: No expiration for the first seven years. Attorney General has stated that inactivity fees violate the state’s rule against expiration within the first seven years.

Maryland: No expiration for the first four years. No fees for the first four years. Fees that do apply after the first four years must be disclosed on the certificate or card, attached sticker, or envelope, and may not be changed except to benefit the consumer. Does not apply to cards processed through a national debit or credit card service that are usable at multiple unaffiliated sellers of goods or services. Effective July 1, 2006.

New Hampshire: For gift cards over $100, no expiration earlier than the date the funds escheat to the state. For gift cards of $100 or less, no expiration dates. No fees on cards of any amount.

New Jersey: Cards are “valid until presented.” All other restrictions must be conspicuously printed on the card. Covers card issued by retail merchandise establishments.

New York: No monthly service fees before 13th month of dormancy.

Nevada: NO fees for the first 12 months. After 12 months, fees may not exceed $1 per month. Covers gift cards usable at a single store or chain. Multiple use cards are not covered.

Rhode Island: No expiration dates. No monthly or annual service or maintenance fees.

South Caroline: No expiration within the first year. Fees permitted but must be disclosed on certificate, envelope, covering, or receipt.

Tennessee: Card issuer is exempt from turning unused funds over to the state if the card has no expiration date and no dormancy fees.

Vermont: No expiration within the first three years. No fees, except a licensed money transmitter, financial institution or credit union may charge a one time issuance fee the smaller of $10 or 10%. Effective: July 1, 2005.

Washington: Prohibits expiration dates and all fees, with one exception. Permits a $1 per month fee only when the card has a balance of $5 or less, the card has been unused for 24 months, the card is reloadable, and the fee is disclosed on the card. Does not apply to gift cards issued by a financial institution or its operating subsidiary if usable at multiple unaffiliated sellers of goods or services.

This is a summary of key features of many state gift card laws. Consumers Union does not give legal advice. Gift card laws are changing rapidly. Please consult the laws of your state for more information.

Prepared by:
Gail Hillebrand
Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.
West Coast Office
1535 Mission St.
San Francisco CA 94103
Updated: June 24, 2005

{ 11 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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11 Responses to “Gift Card Consumer Protection Laws”

  1. Martha says:

    I’m glad that the states are putting in this legislation!! I’m a constant offender when it comes to not using my gift card before half the value is eaten away by fees.

  2. mbhunter says:

    Just one more way that they can get you.

    We have a Funland in our area. They tell us that the tickets we get for the attractions there never expire.

  3. jim says:

    Disney tickets never expire either, even though their prices go up year after year. I have four days worth of admissions sitting in a drawer (I bought a 5 day pass when when we planned on using only 3). Sure, I’m not earning interest or profit or whatever on the money locked up in a ticket but whatever. 🙂

  4. LiMa says:

    I rec’d a Gift Certificate (a paper – not plastic in case in matters)
    for a Massage at a Spa worth $80.00.

    Purchased 12/05 & shows on paper gift certificate
    Experation Date of 12/06!

    I thought there was a “2 YEAR” time frame to use ANY Gift CERTIFICATES IN NH!

    Is the Experation Date of ONLY “1 YEAR” VALID???

    Or should I book an appt. & print out this page & “MAKE THEM SEE THE NH LAW OF NO CERTIFICATE UNDER $100.00 HAVING AN EXPERATION DATE”???


    • Bird says:

      They have to honor the gift certificate by law in NH. That one is cut and dry. Just print out the law and kindly inform the manager. You’ll be doing them a favor by filling them in on something they truly need to know (most likely they don’t). They might even appreciate it.

  5. terry vega says:

    I have a Dell card that expires today and they refuse to let me use it? How can I go around this or can I sue?

    • JS says:

      How pathetic are you that you would try to sue over a petty little card to a deli. I think it shows how stupid you are. If you sue in court there are court fees / costs. Even if you dont have to pay for them, someone does… that person is called a TAX PAYER. Unless that card was worth thousands then you would have no reason to sue. Pathetic.

  6. aua868s says:

    no info about OR, huh?!?

  7. I’ve been getting the runaround in a huge way from TD Ameritrade/Commerce bank for a $500 Visa Debit gift card issued by them that was issued in NJ and “expired” in March 2006.

    In November 2009 I wanted to use the card and noticed it was expired. I called Nicole at commerce bank HQ. She did some “research,” and eventually left me a voicemail stating that the card has been left with zero balance due to the monthly service charges fees. Incredible, this would mean that the fees are at least $10/month.

    So I paid a visit to a local TD Bank, and was told that the card had “fallen off,” their system and there was no way to recover the funds. After some follow up I was told they’d give me a $100 gift card as a “measure of good will”. What????

    After a lot of beating around the bush, I told them I would file a complaint with the department of consumer affairs (DCA) unless I could get an explanation of the fees in writing.

    The next day I was told they would give me a check for the balance remaining on the card minus any fees, this would be $387.50. I’m still not sure this sounds right, how many people have been less persistent and lost all of their Visa Debit card balance?

    • govenar says:

      Do you have the terms & conditions that came with the debit card? It should mention whether there’s fees.
      I usually try to use gift cards soon after I get them, since it’s a pain to keep track of them, and there’s a risk that they’ll be stolen or the store will go out of business, etc.

  8. Bird says:

    In the state of NH, are gift certificates cash refundable by the buyer who no longer wants the gift certificates because they have been found by the receiver to be unsuitable for some reason?

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