Don't leave cash stranded in those debit, gift cards

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Now's not the time to save your money -- if it's tied up in the form of a gift card or prepaid debit card.

That's because the clock is ticking on the value of that plastic, and you might wind up with nothing -- nothing you can use, that is.

Kudos to State Sen. Bill Avery, who has introduced LB720, which will require businesses to offer a cash or check option whenever they offer an incentive program that uses a prepaid debit card.

Maybe you've had an experience like Avery.

"A lot of businesses won't take your card as partial payment, so you wind up with a few pennies left on the card -- and the companies are pocketing part of your rebate," he told the Lincoln Journal Star.

Usually, you can check the balance left on the card online or via telephone, but how many of us bother to make the effort?

A dollar or two, or even a few cents stranded on a few millions of cards turns out to be quite a windfall for the companies involved.

Avery's bill would help reduce that abuse, and so will some new consumer protections that will go into effect next summer as part of the credit card reform law and Federal Reserve actions.

All of the federal rules aren't finalized, but the new rules will prohibit gift cards from expiring for at least five years after purchase and prohibiting card sellers from charging service or inactivity fees in the first year. All fees must be disclosed, and no more than one fee can be charged per month.

So read the fine print on the back of that rebate or gift card, and make sure you get every cent you have coming. If you have a problem, first contact the issuer. If that doesn't help, report your problem to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877 FTC-HELP (877-382-4357), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's Consumer Assistance Group at 800-613-6743 or customer.assistance@occ.treas.gov

Or, contact the Nebraska Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-727-6432.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: