Dates on gift cards can be deceiving

November 12, 2009 6:05:15 PM PST
Consumers bought $60 billion in gift cards last year, but not all of those cards were redeemed. That amounted to $7 billion dollars that wasn't used. So, where does the money go?

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You receive a gift card and maybe you toss it in a sock drawer? Well if it's a bank issued card, that's not such a good idea. Here's one small example of where some of your gift card money really ends up.

Eric Coulson got a nice gift from co-workers one Christmas -- a $50 "All Access" Visa gift card. It was money he could spend anywhere and he had until this month to spend it.

"I just said oh, here's the expiration date and I put it on my desk and said, 'it's good until 11/09,'" said Eric.

But when his wife Amy tried to use the card for the first time recently, it didn't work. She called the gift card company.

"They said no you don't have any money any more in the account I said what do you mean?" said Amy Chen.

"All the money was gone from it $50 so I'm wondering where the money went," said Eric.

It went to NetSpend Corporation and Inter National Bank of Texas which issued the card. They took fees of $4.95 per month directly from Eric's card and before he could spend it, the money was gone.

Eric says he was relying on the expiration date in big print on the front and never noticed this microscopic print on the back.

"In very small letters that I really can hardly read it says some applicable fees will be deducted," said Eric.

"All too often, when someone gives as a present a gift card you are giving a gift to a giant bank," said Joe Ridout from Consumer Action.

Ridout says many people don't realize bank issued gift cards do charge monthly fees -- unlike most retail gift cards which cannot impose fees in California or expire.

But starting next August it changes. New laws will require banks to wait one year before deducting fees and their cards cannot expire for five years.

"At that point I called 7 On Your Side," said Eric.

We contacted Net Spend. It said terms and conditions are enclosed in the card package and monthly fees begin six months after card purchase. Customers are encouraged to use the cards as soon as possible

Eric has his own advice.

"So yeah, I would just give people cash," he said.

After 7 On Your Side spoke with NetSpend the company offered to restore the $50 in Eric's card because he was unaware the fees were draining the value.

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