What gift do you give when you don’t know what to buy? Lots of people purchase gift cards. While these cards can provide a welcome solution to holiday season dilemmas, there are a number of rules you have to follow to make sure you get your money’s worth. Many of these rules relate to how fast you have to use the card and if the merchant can charge a fee against the card balance.
There are both Ohio and federal laws. Many sellers in Ohio must comply with both of these laws. Under Ohio law, most single merchant gift cards cannot expire for two years or impose a fee for two years. There are exclusions, though, the most common of which are:
- An awards, loyalty, or promotional program;
- A gift card that is sold by a nonprofit or charitable organization for fund raising purposes;
- A gift card that is usable with multiple, unaffiliated sellers of goods or services, for example a Visa Card.
Federal law requires that the gift card lasts at least five years for most cards. In addition, under Federal law, sellers cannot charge fees on most gift cards, unless the card has been inactive for one year. However, if Ohio law is applicable, this is at least two years. Federal law also states that any fees charged must be clearly marked on the card so the buyer is aware.
So, should you not purchase gift cards because of these restrictions? Of course not, because gift cards can be a handy gift. What you should do is recognize that unlike cash, there are rules and expiration dates attached to gift cards, so use it or lose it. If you do run into problems, you might try calling the Ohio Attorney General’s consumer hotline at 1-800-282-0515.
You will probably give — and may receive — gift cards this holiday season. Be sure you understand the terms and time limits so you’ll get your full money’s worth.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. She is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and the Ohio State Bar Association and an accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veteran’s benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She practices in the areas of Elder Law, Medicaid, VA and Disability Planning, and Estate and Trust Planning and Administration.