If you received a gift card this holiday season, you should get out and use it now, before it gets buried in a drawer, loses value or expires. According to a recent Consumer Reports poll, about 113 million adults received gift cards last holiday season, and this year 62 percent of adults planned to give them as gifts.
Even though laws passed in recent years have eliminated some of the gotchas that made gift cards less worthwhile in the past, it's still a good idea to use those cards as soon as possible. Here's why:
- They may expire: New rules for merchant and bank issued gift cards mean they can't expire within five years after they're issued, or in the case of reloadable gift cards, within five years after money was last added. But the new rules don't apply to reloadable cards that aren't labeled or marketed as gift cards, including those awarded through loyalty, rebate or promotional programs. Nor do the new regulations apply to discount vouchers from such sites as Groupon, Living Social and BuyWithMe.
- You may be charged inactivity fees: Bank-issued cards are convenient because you can use them almost anywhere, but they come with fees. For example, you could be charged a monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity. Charity gift cards can also come with fees for transactions, or to transfer funds. Retail store cards usually have few or no fees.
- The retailer could go bankrupt: When the retailer Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy reorganization a few years ago, an estimated $20 million in gift cards and certificates were unredeemed. Consumers with Sharper Image gift cards were first told that the retailer was no longer accepting its cards, then that it would accept the cards if customers spent twice the cards’ value, and finally that it was closing its stores altogether. Even if a retailer continues honoring its gift cards during bankruptcy reorganization or liquidation, there could be fewer places to redeem them or less time to do so.
- You might lose or forget about them: According to our recent holiday poll, at the start of this holiday season, a quarter of last year's gift card recipients still had an unused gift card. Using it now means you won't have to worry about losing it later.