June 30, 2009 3:50PM

Gift Cards: What Congress Gives, the States Take Away

Little noticed in the recently enacted credit card bill was a provision prohibiting retailers and financial institutions from issuing gift cards that expired with a set time, except under certain circumstances.  While card issuers had been using expiration dates to estimate and manage their liabilities, many States had been “collecting” the value of these unused cards as “abandoned property”, as discussed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Some states have even been going after cards with no expiration date, arguing that if you leave that gift card sitting around your house or in your wallet for too long, then you’ve abandoned.  What’s next, funds sitting unused in your bank account will next be considered abandoned.  The States that require unused gift cards, or unused portions, to be turned over require retailer and card processors to maintain databases tracking card amounts and usage.

There is some comfort, however, in knowing that some States do allow you to re-claim your “abandoned gift dollars,” for instance of the $9.6 million collected by New York State last year in unused gift cards, rightful owners were able to recover $2,150.