With the holidays
rapidly approaching, your thoughts may be on how to find those
"perfect" gifts. One possibility that "fits" everyone is a gift
card. Many shoppers like giving gift cards because they are easy to
buy, you don't have to visit a lot of stores and it can be a way to
get shopping finished early. For those who receive the cards, there
is freedom to buy what they like and no unwanted gifts to exchange.
New laws protect you
Before shopping for gift cards, you should be aware
that there are new Federal Reserve rules for gift cards that went
into effect in August, 2010. The new rules cover store gift cards
and gift cards that carry a brand logo like MasterCard, Visa,
American Express or Discover. Here’s an overview of the new rules
and how they protect consumers:
1. Under the new rules, the money on gift cards
is good for at least five years from the date the card is purchased.
If the card has expired and there is still unspent money on it, you
may request a free replacement card.
2. Read the information that is available with
the card to see if expiration dates apply.
3. All fees must be clearly disclosed on the
4. There are limits on the fees that can be
charged. Fees are allowed if you haven’t used the card for at least
one year and you are only charged one fee per month. There are
restrictions that apply to fees, such as dormancy or inactivity
fees, usage fees, maintenance fees and fees for adding money to your
5. You can be charged a fee to purchase a card
or a fee to replace a lost or stolen card.
Gift cards are available from a variety of stores,
online or through financial institutions.
Use caution before you buy a card
• Buy from sources you know and trust. Be cautious
of online auction sites, as the cards may be counterfeit or may have
been obtained fraudulently.
• Take time to read the fine print before you buy.
If you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.
• Before you buy a card, check for expiration dates
and fees, such as fees to purchase a card, shipping and handling
fees if purchased online and/or fees to use the card. If you don’t
see this information, ask. Be sure to give the recipient a copy of
the information if it's separate from the gift card.
• Inspect the card before you buy it. Check to see
that none of the protective stickers have been removed and that the
codes on the back of the card haven’t been scratched off to reveal a
• Give the recipient the original receipt so he or
she can verify the card’s purchase if it's lost or stolen.
For more information, visit these websites: