ANNAPOLIS - The holiday season is upon us and shopping for gifts can be stressful. Gift cards have become an increasingly popular gift-giving option. But Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. advises consumers to read the fine print before investing in the cure-all gift option.
Many consumers who have received gift cards in the past have unhappily discovered that their card expired before they used it or the card lost its value as a result of fees imposed by the issuing company.
But Marylanders who are purchasing gift cards this holiday season will benefit from a state law that went into effect July 1, 2006. Store-specific gift cards, which can be used to buy merchandise from a particular store, may not expire less than four years after the date of purchase and may not impose fees or charges of any kind during that four-year period.
General-purpose cardscards that are issued by banks and processed through national credit or debit services, such as Visa, MasterCard, or American Expresscan still expire in less than four years and can impose fees that will reduce the value of the card. However, the general-purpose card has to disclose its expiration date and all fees that will be imposed.
Maryland consumers should take full advantage of the recently passed law when purchasing gift cards, Curran said.
Gift card purchasers and recipients should also know that few, if any, stores will redeem the gift card for cash once it has been purchased nor will they refund any remaining balance in cash. This can force consumers to purchase items for more than the value of the gift card in order to be able to realize the full value of the card. The winner in the gift card business is clearly the merchant.
To find out more information on gift cards, and the laws that came into effect, go to www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/125.pdf.