The pursuing question was posted to John Roska, an lawyer/writer whose weekly newspaper column, “The Law Q&A,” ran in the Champaign News Gazette. When can gift certificates or cards expire? I wish to avoid any surprises on the cards I give. A mixture of both state and federal law now regulates gift cards and certificates. In Illinois, the combined effect is that present cards and certificates should never expire basically and never have fees.
The first rules to regulate present cards was the Illinois Unclaimed Property Act. Since 2005, that laws have needed that any unused part of any gift card must be treated as unclaimed property and changed over to the continuing state, unless the cards expire and never charges fees never. To avoid needing to wreck havoc on the Unclaimed Property Act, many issuers of present cards in Illinois avoid expiration dates and fees.
The second rules to regulate present cards was a 2008 addition to the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act that prohibits expiration dates and fees. But, it only pertains to store cards, including stored value credit cards (e.g., Starbucks Cards). It does not apply to gift cards that can be used at multiple places, like those issued by credit-card issuers or a mall.
In 2010, present cards became controlled by federal regulation. The rules enforcing the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act apply to both store gift cards, and credit cards issued by credit-card issuers. The “CARD Act” rules require gift cards last at least 5 years before you lose your money.
Careful–cards can expire, so it won’t any more to buy stuff, before you lose your to a refund. The federal government regulation allows fees, if they’re disclosed clearly. Year of inactivity fees are Fine only after at least one. Then, only one fee per month. But, in Illinois those fees would only be OK on present cards issued by credit-card issuers, or by multiple merchants.
Store gift credit cards shouldn’t expire, or charge fees, since that’s prohibited by our Consumer Fraud Act. The main exception to all these laws and regulations are promotional, loyalty, or praise cards. Those can expire, and charge fees, because they’re not marketed as presents that consumers buy to provide to others. The Consumer Fraud Act does not cover gift certificates for a “food product.” Attorney General Madigan can prosecute violations of the Illinois laws and regulations, and the FTC enforces the federal law. Complaints about violations should be made to both. Although most Illinois present cards should not expire, be cautious that the store does not go out of business like Borders and Circuit City.
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Gift cardholders can be out of fortune when the issuer goes out of business or closes a close by store. Also be careful about possible gift card scams. Cards from auction sites are especially risky, since they can be bogus totally or less than you expected. And scammers can get information from publicly displayed-credit cards apparently, await the cards to be activated, and hijack its value then. Therefore, some advise buying only cards that are kept behind the counter. Gift cards are America’s favorite holiday present now. 8 billion of all gift cards went unspent. In Illinois, stores can’t just pocket that unused value anymore.
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