The short answer to this question, “Do gift cards expire,” is that some gift cards expire, but not all. Retailer gift cards, such as Starbucks, Target, Best Buy and so on, rarely have expiration dates. Bank-issued gift cards such as Visa® or MasterCard® often do. To find out if your gift card expires, read the terms on the back of the card. By law, if a gift card expires, the issuing company must clearly disclose the expiry date on the card or the card’s packaging. For a more detailed explanation, read below.
In 2009, President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (a.k.a. CARD Act) into law. This law, which mostly deals with consumer protection from credit card companies, also included new rules for gift cards. Some highlights of the new rules are as follows:
Gift cards cannot expire any earlier than five years from the date of activation or the date on which money was last loaded onto the card, UNLESS (listen up!) the terms of expiration are clearly disclosed prior to purchase. Typically, that means companies will print the expiration time-frame on the card itself or the carrier holding the card at the time of purchase. To see if your card will expire, read both the front and back of the card to find the terms. If you don’t know when the card was activated or you can’t find the terms, call the issuing company.
Gift cards are exempt from dormancy, inactivity or service fees unless the card has gone unused for a year and the non-use fee terms are clearly disclosed prior to purchase. No more than one non-use fee can be imposed per calendar month. If you haven’t used your card recently, check the balance. Use any remaining value quickly to stop potential inactivity fees. (Follow these tips if you keep forgetting to use your gift card.
Activation or reload fees are allowed if the fee amount (or explanation of how the fee will be determined) is clearly disclosed prior to purchase. Are you seeing a pattern here? Expiration dates and any potential fees must be clearly specified.
Prepaid phone cards, promotional gift cards, loyalty cards and paper gift certificates are not covered by these rules. If you receive a gift card without paying for it (e.g. cable company sends you a free gift card as a thank you for switching services), pay close attention to the terms. (More information on promotional gift cards here.)
State laws, if more stringent, take precedence over federal. Check your state gift card laws to learn more. In California, for example, store-issued gift cards cannot expire, and if the balance on the gift card is less than $10, you can cash it out. Knowing my state laws has helped me get the best value for my gift cards on more than one occasion.
A fairly sure bet is that your retailer gift cards will not expire. Target, for example, boasts, “No Expiration. No Fees. No Kidding.” None of their gift cards have activation fees, expiration dates, or non-use fees. Visa gift cards, on the other hand, typically do have an expiration date. Personalized Visa gift cards At GiftCards.com have a seven-year expiration, and the expiry date is printed on the front of the card. (Read our FAQ for more details.)
The answer to the question, “Do gift cards expire?” really means asking the question, “Does MY gift card expire?” or “Does THIS gift card expire?” By law, gift card fees and expiration dates must be clearly written on the card and must be disclosed before purchase. No surprises. If you can’t find these terms on the card you’re considering, don’t buy it. If you are wondering about the terms on a gift card you already have, then read it—front and back. If you don’t find the answer, call the issuing company. A few minutes of investigation could save you from having an expired gift card declined at the point of sale or from losing the value of a gift card you haven’t used.
If you have other gift card questions, add a note in the comments below or leave a message on @GCGirlfriend on Twitter.
Happy Gift Carding!
~Gift Card Girlfriend