Dear Action Line: My mother is very difficult to buy gifts for, so this Christmas we all gave her gift cards. She was very appreciative and put them in the same drawer where she keeps all the gift cards we gave her last year.
I've tried to tell her that they are going to expire or lose value and she just says she is saving them for "something special." I heard that some gift cards may lose their value after a year or charge fees for inactivity. What can I do to get her to spend them before they become worthless?
Dear Reader: First, explain to your mother that the family got her the gift cards because they wanted her to buy something(s) she would enjoy and think of them when she used her gifts.
Second, there are different kinds of gift cards and it wasn't clear from your letter what type you bought your mother. Retail gift cards are sold by retailers and restaurants, and can only be used with those merchants, while a bank gift card carries the logo of a payment card network like American Express, Discover, Visa or Mastercard and can be used at many locations wherever the brand is accepted.
It's important for your mother to understand the terms and conditions of gift cards and bank gift cards. According to the Federal Trade Commission, a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased, or from the last date any additional money was loaded onto the card.
Make sure your mother is aware of what fees may apply to the card. Some gift cards may not have fees; others charge various types and amounts of fees. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reminds you to be aware of these fees:
* Purchase fees that are charged when you buy a gift card. These are in addition to the money you pay in exchange for the value on the card.
* Inactivity, dormancy or service fees that may apply only if there has been no activity on the card for at least one year. By law, only one dormancy, inactivity or service fee may be imposed in any calendar month.
* Transaction fees for using the card: for all transactions, for a large number of transactions or for certain types of transactions. For example, ATM withdrawals.
* Miscellaneous fees for balance inquiries, adding funds to the card, replacing a lost or stolen card, or other services related to the card.
Offer to go through mom's stash and figure out the current value of her old gift cards and then offer to take her to lunch or shopping. Make sure she understands the terms and conditions, and that gift cards have expiration dates and some may have fees.
-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or email@example.com.