With the holidays just behind us, I’m sure many of us are swimming in gift cards. Or perhaps with this crowd, some are swimming in gift cards that were purchased with the intention of meeting minimum spend or maximizing miles or credit card points.
Either way, I’m certain we’ve all been in a position where we’ve been stuck with a merchant gift card with just a few bucks remaining (it’s one of my biggest pet peeves).
Of course, I’d never toss out a gift card with $3.53 on it, but I’m also not in a rush to make an unnecessary purchase just to use it up either. For the most part, these gift cards sit in a separate wallet until I know I am ready to return to the merchant… that’s if I don’t forget it in the first place!
If you’re currently unfamiliar, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act ten years ago in 2009, which set consumer protections for gift cards based on many state laws.
In general, the law provides that gift cards cannot expire within five years from the date they were activated and generally limits inactivity fee on gift cards except in certain circumstances, such as if there has been no transaction for at least 12 months.
Additionally, there are 12 states that have laws requiring that the merchant issue cash on unused gift card balances:
- California: California has a pretty consumer-favoring gift card policy, which allows you to redeem any gift card worth less than $10 for cash.
- Colorado: You can redeem any gift card for cash if there’s less than $5 on it.
- Connecticut: A merchant gift card balance with under $3 on it can be redeemed for cash.
- Maine: If the value of a merchant gift card is under $5, it can be redeemed for cash (with a few exceptions, such as prepaid telephone service card, a gift obligation or nonreloadable stored‐value card with an initial value of $5 or less or a stored-value card that is not purchased but provided as a promotion or as a refund for merchandise returned without a receipt.)
- Massachusetts: In instances where you are unable to add more value to a gift card, you can redeem the remaining amount for cash if 90% percent of the face value has been used. Gift cards that allow you to add more value to them can be redeemed for cash if the remaining balance is under $5.
- Montana: If the gift card was originally worth more than $5, you can exchange the remaining balance for cash.
- New Jersey: Any gift cards with less than $5 on them can be redeemed for cash.
- Oregon: If you have a gift card that has been used for at least one previous transaction and the balance is below $5, then you can request to redeem it for cash.
- Puerto Rico: Merchant gift cards with less than $5 on them can be redeemed for cash.
- Rhode Island & Vermont: These two have the least consumer-friendly policies out of the bunch. In both states, only gift card balances with less than $1 on them can be redeemed for cash.
- Washington: You can redeem the card for cash if it has less than $5 on it.
You can view the full details of your state’s specific gift card laws here.
As someone who lives in New Jersey, I must say that I have never turned in any of my merchant gift cards with less than $5 on them into cash, but now I’m intrigued. As of this present moment, I have a Nordstrom gift card with $1.61 on it, an AMC gift card with $4.28 on it, and a Lowe’s gift card with $4.11 on it. I’m about to go on a mission.
Feel free to share your experiences. Have you ever redeemed your remaining merchant gift card balances for cash if you live in one of the above mentioned states?