Thursday, December 22, 2011

The rules for using bank gift cards

Gift cards that can be used at multiple retailers have long been laden with various fees that are not permitted in California with single-store cards. But federal rules instituted last year give consumers more protections when using these so-called bank gift cards, which carry a Visa, MasterCard, Discover Card or American Express logo. Some things to know:
  •  While single-store cards cannot expire under California law, bank gift cards can. But the new federal rules say they cannot expire for at least five years after purchase, and any money added to the card must be usable for five years. The expiration terms must be “clearly and conspicuously” stated on the card.
  •  You cannot be charged an “inactivity” or “dormancy” fee unless the card has been unused for 12 months. Even then, you can only be charged one fee per month.  Fees must be clearly stated to the buyer before purchase regardless of whether the transaction is done in person, by phone or online.
  •  "Virtual” or “e-gift” cards have the same protections as physical cards. You can buy an electronic credit online and give it as a gift. The recipient either prints out the code or uses it to make purchases over the Internet.
  •  You may be charged simply for buying the card. “Purchase fees” are typically $3 to $7 for each card, though there’s no limit under the law. So it may be smarter to give cash or a check. 

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