Liz Weston: This year, resolve to leave no gift card unused

Even if you don’t have a specific plan for a card, consider putting a “use by” date on your calendar so you don’t forget it, Tilson says.

Hunter also recommends treating cards like cash. If you got a $20 bill as a gift, you’d probably put it into your wallet right away, Hunter notes. Consider doing the same with gift cards you plan to use.

“I put them next to the debit or credit card that I use most often,” she says.

Tilson agrees. If she puts gift cards elsewhere in her wallet or purse, “I forget about them.”


How much time you have to use your gift cards may depend on where you live and the type of card.

Under the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, gift cards can’t expire for five years although issuers can charge inactivity fees if the card hasn’t been used within 12 months.

Some states have additional rules. Where I live in California, store gift certificates and gift cards can’t expire. Inactivity fees are mostly forbidden and balances below $10 can be redeemed for cash. The law doesn’t apply to general-use gift cards, however, if the expiration date is printed on the card. (General-use cards include gift cards issued by Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express that can be used wherever those brands are accepted.)

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