New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is urging New Yorkers this holiday season to read the fine print on gift cards for details about fees and expiration dates. While some gift cards sellers have eliminated inactivity fees, consumers should still ask whether fees apply. DiNapoli also reminds recipients to spend their new gift cards in a timely manner, otherwise the money could eventually get turned over to the Office of Unclaimed Funds.
“After the holiday season wraps up, many New Yorkers tend to forget or lose track of their gift cards,” DiNapoli said. “Last year my office received over $13 million worth of unused cards. As a rule of thumb, New Yorkers should register the card with the retailer and use gift cards within a year of purchase to avoid inactivity fees.”
Registering a new card, or an old one you recently found, helps to get a replacement card if it’s ever lost and also helps you recover any unused balance if it’s reported as unclaimed funds.
After five years of dormancy, money from unused gift cards issued by New York businesses is turned over to the State Comptroller’s office as abandoned property. Under the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, many types of retail gift cards sold after August 22, 2010 are not permitted to charge inactivity fees unless the card has been inactive for at least 12 months. All terms and conditions for a card must be disclosed directly on it and gift cards cannot expire within the first five years after purchase. New York law provides that gift cards cannot be assessed a monthly service fee against the balance prior to two years or the 25th month of inactivity.
Since January 2011, New York has required companies offering rebates to disclose whether they will be issued in the form of a gift card and whether any fees will apply to those cards. Rebate cards are not all covered by the same rules as regular gift cards, so this disclosure helps consumers to identify the different cards and how they can be used.
Gift cards may have other terms and conditions that can decrease the value. These may include:
- Service fees when the card is purchased;
- Dormancy fees if the gift card is not used within a certain time period;
- Fees to call and check the balance remaining on the card; and
- Replacement fees for lost or stolen gift cards.
DiNapoli’s office is currently holding more than $16 billion in unclaimed funds. This holiday season he urges New Yorkers to see if they are owed money and visit www.osc.state.ny.us.