Use that Gift Card!

June 19, 2009
Special Feature

We’re coming up on the middle of the year and if you still haven’t used that gift card you got last December, it may be time to dust it off and find something to buy with it.

We’re coming up on the middle of the year and if you still haven’t used that gift card you got last December, it may be time to dust it off and find something to buy with it. Consumer experts point out that many gift cards come with strings attached that can make them less valuable or even worthless with the passage of time.

In the world of gift cards, retailers’ cards are generally more forgiving than those issued by banks and credit card companies. The latter are more likely to come with expiration dates and nuisance fees. Some gift cards from credit card companies expire after a year or two and start tacking on a monthly “inactivity” maintenance fee after six months if the card isn’t used. To make matters worse, some even tack on activation fees and transaction fees. On the other hand, according to the National Retail Federation, very few retailers impose such restrictions on their gift cards.

Most gift cards are used within a few months, but almost a third aren’t used until six months or more after they’re received. Many are never used at all, giving retailers a welcome windfall. Last holiday season, however, many bargain-hunting consumers went for deeply discounted merchandise instead of gift cards from retail stores, resulting in a decline in sales to $61 billion in the fourth quarter of the year, down from $70 billion the year before.