‘Tis the season for the hand wringing and tsk-tsking over the presumed laziness and implied tackiness of giving gift certificates and gift cards in lieu of “real” presents. While Miss Manners doesn’t approve, though, I love receiving them, and thus give them without hesitation. (My wife collects tributes almost exclusively in the form of iTunes credit.) If you’re an unsentimental shopper like me, here are some things to keep in mind if you’re going to buy or use these handy cash substitutes this year.
Hawaii law requires that gift cards be valid for at least two years. If you buy one tomorrow and the expiration date says December 2008, feel free to procrastinate through 2009. If there’s no expiration date specified, meanwhile, it’s valid indefinitely. Of course, most good retailers will honor any gift certificate, no matter how old. It’s just good business.
Retailers and credit card companies that offer gift cards cannot charge inactivity fees. This type of law is gaining favor across the country, so hopefully we’ll never again have to worry about a gift card balance slowly dwindling away the longer it sits in our desk.
Finally, if your gift card does expire, its value is not necessarily forfeited back to the issuer (an arrangement that most people presume is how these things make money). In Hawaii, after five years, locally incorporated companies must send the balance to the state as “unclaimed property.” Meaning that it’s possible, even years later, to make a case for claiming the balance as plain ol’ money. Realistically, of course, the retailer is most likely going to honor the card or certificate, even if it’s already sent the same amount to the government. How giving of them!
True, a gift card or gift certificate probably doesn’t look as good under the tree as a new sweater. But as a present, I think it’s much more likely to fit.
- States try to halt fees, expiration dates on gift cards
- The Pros and Cons of Gift Cards
- Holiday Gift Guide: Elements Hawaii Gift Cards