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Gift cards can be the gift that keeps on taking

November 23, 2008|Scott J. Wilson

Thinking of giving gift cards for Christmas? Keep in mind that some come with expiration dates or fees. Gift cards that can be used at multiple unaffiliated businesses can carry purchase fees, monthly fees, inactivity fees, transaction fees, balance-inquiry fees and replacement fees.

They can also have an expiration date, which California requires to be printed on the card. Single-business gift cards can't expire and, in most cases, won't come with a service fee.

The business can assess a "dormancy fee" if the value on the card is less than $5 and the card hasn't been used in two years.

If the card is worth less than $10, the business must allow you to exchange it for cash. Gift cards or certificates for food can have an expiration date, which must be printed on the card or certificate.

Unfortunately, if a business seeks bankruptcy protection, its gift cards are pretty much worthless, unless the holder wishes to file a claim against the bankruptcy estate. For more information on gift card rules or if you have a complaint, contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 952-5210.

-- Scott J. Wilson

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