HELENA – For many, gift cards are a convenient gift during the holidays, especially if you aren’t sure what to buy.
According to the National Retail Federation, six in ten consumers said in 2017 they had a gift card on their Christmas list, totaling around $27 billion in expected sales.
If you’re buying one for someone else, or maybe received one already, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox advises consumers to know the law.
“It’s important for Montanans to know that gift cards and gift certificates for a single merchant here in Montana under the law, do not expire,” Fox said.
That means regardless how long that gift card has been sitting around, it should still be good.
Montana law also provides an additional perk for consumers: if a gift certificate was originally for more than $5 but has less than $5 remaining on it, it can be redeemed for cash.
If a store tells you otherwise, Fox said to contact the Montana Office of Consumer Protection. Fox himself once had to remind a restaurant of the law regarding gift cards.
“I went to a restaurant with a very old certificate and the ownership of the restaurant had changed but it was still the same restaurant and they tried to tell me it was no good,” Fox said. “I let them know that actually, it is good.”
However, there are some exceptions. State law doesn’t protect things like prepaid phone cards or gift cards that work at multiple retailers. Instead, federal law says those types of cards must be good for up to five years.
But Fox adds there are other reasons to use your gift card shortly after purchase, such as if the company goes bankrupt and the card becomes worthless.
“You should probably use them as soon as you can. That way you don’t lose them. They don’t get stolen and you lose that small risk if the retailer goes bankrupt,” Fox said.
Finally, Fox said to keep close tabs on any gift cards or certificates. If they get into the wrong hands, they don’t have the same protections that apply to things like debit cards or credit cards.