Americans are gearing up to spend nearly $30 billion on gift cards this holiday season, with restaurant gift cards being the most sought after, as reported by the National Retail Federation.
While a significant 70% of these cards, tracked by Paytronix, are expected to be redeemed within six months, a substantial portion remains unused. Gift cards often become forgotten or lost, leading to billions of dollars in unspent funds. A Bankrate survey revealed that 47% of U.S. adults possess unspent gift cards or vouchers, averaging $187 per person, totaling around $23 billion.
The fate of these unspent gift cards is governed by various regulations. Federal law mandates a minimum five-year expiration period from the purchase date or the last addition of funds. Some states, like New York, extend this period to nine years. Despite varying state laws, many retailers have eliminated expiration dates. However, experts advise quick usage to avoid devaluation through inactivity fees, especially with generic cash cards, or potential worthlessness due to retail closures or bankruptcy.
For those with unwanted gift cards, resale sites offer a solution, though typically below face value. Meanwhile, unclaimed gift card funds are managed differently across states. Companies account for “breakage,” or unredeemed card liabilities, with Starbucks reporting $212 million in breakage revenue in 2022. In contrast, some states, such as Delaware, require unclaimed funds from gift cards to be returned to consumers or used for public service initiatives. Consumers can search for unclaimed property, including gift card cash, on MissingMoney.com, a joint effort by state unclaimed property offices.
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