Why Do Gift Cards Expire? And Where You Can Get Gift Cards Online

December 15, 2023
Gift Ideas
jason wolfe
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Gift cards. The “go-to” present for family, friends, work colleges, and peers alike. You’ve probably been given and gave a gift card before for a certain special occasion and/or holiday. Most, if not all, retail stores, restaurants, convenient stores, supermarkets, spas, hotels, and online businesses have gift cards available for purchase. 

If you have a loved one who shops frequently at a store then getting them a gift card for that store is a no-brainer, especially because they can use that card to buy whatever they want from that store and not have the worry of deciding to put the money to a greater use. It’s a way to treat yourself to something special and gets rid of any indecision you might find with a regular money gift.

But there is one thing you might need to be on the lookout for when you’re spending your gift cards:

The expiration date.

Unlike traditional gift cards, GiftYa eGift cards never expire. That means when you ditch the plastic and give a GiftYa, you (and your loved ones!) will never have to worry about a gift card losing its value again.

But in case you have an old school plastic gift card you're worried about, today we’re going to answer a few questions you might have about gift cards and their expiration dates. Plus a few more related questions that you might have while you’re doing research like:

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You’ve got a lot of questions like “why do gift cards expire?” and we’re here to answer them!

How many years does it take for a gift card to expire?

Now normally when you first get a gift card the chances of it expiring anytime soon are slim to none- (the only time that would happen is for when you get coupons in the mail or on restaurant menus, instead as those tend to have a shorter shelf life). But if you’re finally cleaning out your bag or the time for spring cleaning has come and you happen upon a gift card then you might want to check the back of the card. Though even then, there’s a chance you may still get value out of the card.

Because of federal law, “a gift card cannot expire until at least five years from the date it was activated.” So for at least five years from the purchase date you’ll have a gift card you can use freely. 

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, aka the CARD Act which was passed in 2009, states all of the details of expiration dates, “inactivity” or “service” fees, and what consumers need to make clear if they choose to sell gift cards to customers.  

However, it’s to note that if your gift card expires before those five years then you can get the original value of the card transferred over to another at zero cost.

So that birthday gift card you got six months ago that went missing and now only just turned up, good news is you can still use it, and if it says it expired you have the capability of getting that money back to spend on all your favorite merchandise. 

What are inactivity and service fees?

We know we can use a gift card for a long while after purchase, but there’s one other thing to note and that is “inactivity” or “service” fees.

Inactivity and/or service fees are “a service charge imposed by a financial institution when there is no activity in a client's account during a specified time period.”

Which means that if you are one of those lucky souls that find a bunch of unused gift cards from a year or more back then there may be a decrease in the value. Every month after 12 months of disuse the consumer can issue an “inactivity” or “service” fee. 

And because the information must be written on the back, one other thing you should note about the potential fees is that they can’t be charged more than once per month. 

But how much exactly is an activity or service fee? 

Well, that would all depend on the business. Some can charge as little as a couple bucks a month, while others can charge enough that by the time you would go to use it again the card will be worth half as much as the original price. This is a reason that companies will use to incentivize buyers to spend their money sooner rather than later.

Can you still use expired gift cards?

Inactivity and service fees aside, you now know that if a gift card expires before those five mandated years you can get reimbursed. But say it has been 5 years, or the gift card/certificate had a clear expiration date and yet you still want to use it.

Are you able to still use expired gift cards?

Yes and no.

Unfortunately there’s no clear cut answer to this question. Some businesses have a strict policy meaning that when the gift card expires you can no longer use it. 

But there are accounts of stores reactivating long lost cards or reimbursing the consumer with a new gift card, but that just depends on the store as each business has their own policy. So you might get lucky using an old gift card or you might not, just take a look at the back and read the fine print.

So now that you know about some of the rules and regulations of gift cards, you may be asking the question: 

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Managing gift cards and understanding the regulations behind them has never been easier!

Why do gift cards expire?

In a sense it’s a way for businesses to:

  1. Get their name out there. (By having the ability to purchase gift cards from their store, word of mouth grows and more people will be intrigued by what’s offered. And they may end up buying more things than they went in for just because of the gift card in their wallet).
  2. Make up some lost money. (If a gift card expires, the company keeps the original money spent, that way in their books they don’t have to worry about a potential big debt problem- though in some countries like Canada, and even some states here like California, expiration dates on gift cards and gift certificates don’t exist).
  3. It encourages shopping. (When people get gift cards they are more inclined to go shopping and then that could mean bonus purchases, here’s an example:

This way the store makes a profit and the person leaves with a new pair of headphones they didn’t have to pay full price for considering they got the $50 gift card for free from a loved one.

What states don’t allow gift cards to expire?

Because the CARD Act is a federal law, it applies to every state in the country. However, with some rules, regulations, and laws in the United States- (in this case we’re talking gift cards), there are some special variations for these rules.

We went over a few of these Federal Regulations in the previous asks, like the “Gift cards cannot expire before five years from date of purchase,” and the “No state is allowed to impose more than one post-sale fee per month” rules. But what you might not know is in some states you can actually get cash back if the value is under a certain limit. Typically that limit will be anywhere from $5-10$. However in some states they will take that money back if it’s in disuse for a long time. 

ClassAction.org has a state by state map where you can go through and click all the states and see what their specific gift card policies are.

Where does expired gift card money go?

According to CNN, there’s a report from Credit Summit that says “there is as much as $21 billion of unspent money tied up in unused and lost gift cards.”

You’ve probably been a part of that number, we all have, especially when we get gift cards to places we might not get a chance to visit or don’t go to very often as it’s not our regular stomping grounds. 

So where does all that money go? Well, in almost all cases it will go back to the business and/or the consumer. Essentially the person who paid for the gift card in the first place will have given them money and if that money is never spent then it would just stay right in the company’s pocket. That’s why it’s good to make sure you spent your gift cards first to,

  1. Not end up wasting a gift opportunity.
  2. Having inactivity or service fees diminish the card's value.

Or in some cases like we learned from the ClassAction official website, if there is an extended period of dormancy you’ll find that certain states can claim the balance for itself.

What gift cards never expire?

Just like other questions we’ve answered, this question is also a little bit of column a and a little bit of column b. Besides the five year expiration period, there are some businesses that advertise and boast about how their gift cards “never expire.” And to a shopper that is enticing. It’s a way for them to get their name out there in a positive way for buyers. You’ll find that with a bit of research and maybe a really helpful customer service representative, your gift card can be used forever.

Where can you find gift cards that you won’t forget to use

You now have the answer of how and why gift cards expire. And a lot of the time the billions of dollars we see go away from lost gift cards is because we lose it or it’s something that we don’t remember to bring with us when we’re headed out and we always say: “next time.” 

But what if we told you of a method to both give and receive gift cards you won’t have to worry about losing and that’ll be with you wherever you go?

GiftYa is an online service that sells virtual gift cards to all your favorite local business and national brands. It’s all done online and is sent through email and/or text. Then you can upload the card onto your own debit/credit card. That way it’s always with you and for each purchase made at that specific merchant GiftYa will add that same amount back to the card until the gift is used in its entirety. 

Never worry about having your gift cards stolen or lost and expire again when you shop with GiftYa.

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Written by

Trae Bodge

Trae Bodge is the shopping expert here at GiftYa. Trae helps people find the best deals and ideas on popular new items to purchase.

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