If you received gifts this last holiday season, there’s a good chance at least one of them was a gift card. But while the cards are an easy way to give someone a gift other than cash or socks, a number of people just aren’t getting around to spending the money on those cards in a timely manner.
The Philadelphia Inquirer talked to a researcher who calculates that $2 billion in gift cards will go unredeemed this year. Whether it’s because they are lost, forgotten about — or maybe the recipient doesn’t actually want anything at that particular store — that’s a large pile of money that’s been handed over to retailers who haven’t had to do anything but scan a plastic card.
On an up note, this number is a significant drop from the 2007 high-water mark, during which $2.6 billion was lost to fees alone, while another $3.5 billion vanished due to expiring cards. Thankfully, subsequent changes to gift card laws have gotten rid of most of those fees and expiration dates.
But what happens to that money that goes unclaimed? The Inquirer reports that some states, rather than let retailers just claim the unused cards as profit, have seized unused gift card and gift certificate funds, meaning that consumers now need to go through their state treasurer to get the value of their gift. As of 2008, New York state had taken in $9.6 million in unclaimed gift card money but only $2,150 had been distributed to consumers.
The Inquirer cites the following from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website:
Under Pennsylvania law, unused gift certificates are turned over to the Pennsylvania Department of the Treasury as unclaimed property. The business must turn the gift certificate over two years after expiration date. If there is no expiration date, then it must be turned over five years from the date of issuance. You may claim certificates from the Department of the Treasury by calling 1-800-222-2046. Thus far, the Pennsylvania state treasury has collected more than $2.7 million in unredeemed gift certificates and is currently seeking the rightful owners.
“Ultimately, it’s important for consumers to use their gift cards sooner rather than wait and possibly forget them,” says the commonwealth’s Treasurer Rob McCord. “The thing to look out for is whether your gift cards have expiration dates or fees… If they do, your gifts may legally become unclaimed property.”