If someone gave you a $50 bill, you probably would not throw it in a drawer and forget about it. But, that is exactly what happens to over a billion dollars worth of gift cards people receive each year. "They are either lost, forgot about or never used up," says Brenda Schmitt, ISU Extension Family Finance Field Specialist. Before you forget about your cards, place them next to your dollar bills not your credit cards. It is a good idea to use the cards sooner than later. If you have a retail gift card and the company goes out of business, you may forfeit the balance.
People who receive gift cards often end up buying much more than the amount on the card. Unless you're putting the money toward a big ticket item, keep your total in check. Every time you use a card, write the remaining balance on the front in permanent marker so you don't forget how much cash you have left on the card.
Money loaded on gift cards must not expire for at least five years from the date of purchase or after funds were last reloaded. Inactivity and service fees may not be charged until after 12 months of inactivity; after that, only one such fee may be deducted from the balance each month. These restrictions apply to monthly maintenance or service fees, balance inquiry fees, and transaction-based fees, such as reload fees, ATM fees, and point-of-sale fees charged by the card issuer. (Fees for activation or lost/stolen card replacement are exempt.) If the card itself expires but the funds in the account haven't, you can request a free replacement card. Some cards can be registered online so, if you lose them or they are stolen, you can get a replacement (though typically for a fee).
Be sure to read through the policy on the company website for all the rules that apply to your card. When you make a purchase with a gift card, always ask about return policies. You might need to show the card if you want to bring back the item so hang on to the card until you are sure of your purchase.
These rules do not apply to other types of prepaid cards, such as reloadable prepaid cards not marketed or labeled as a gift card or gift certificate, and prepaid cards received through a loyalty, rebate, award or promotional program. Paper gift cards and gift certificates also are excluded.
You can't return a gift card, but you can sell it for a little less than face value on cardpool.com, giftcardrescue.com, plasticjungle.com or similar websites. Then use that money to buy a discounted gif card for a store you prefer. Be cautious when trading cards with third-party exchange site - ask about their verification policies and check with the www.bbb.org Better Business Bureau for any complaints.
Be aware that digital gift cards (e.g., for iTunes or Amazon), sometimes get caught by your computer's spam filter, so you may not be aware they've been sent.
Avoid unsolicited offers that sound too good to be true; for example, Facebook has reported scam artists posting bogus links and fan pages that offer free cards, which, if accessed, can harvest personal information.
For more information about gift cards visit www.eXtension.org and type "gift card" in the search box.