7 On Your Side deciphers coupon fine print

Can coupons expire? How about gift cards or daily deal sites? Can you get cash back? And what is up with all that fine print? For instance a TGI Friday's 'Buy one entrée get one free' deal. Seems simple, but if you read on down through the fine print it says, "Discount applies to item of equal or lesser value."

"We purchased three meals and they took off the least expensive meal and I didn't think that quiet jived with the coupon," said Sue Vioss.

Voiss says that interpretation cost her family $10.

"They said 'equal or lesser,' but they choose the lesser and so that just didn't seem real fair," said Vioss.

Fair? Well, it appears to be legal.

Couponing has become a national obsession, but what do you really know about that coupon? Take the fine print for example, it's there because if a rule is listed, it generally can legally be enforced. For instance, coupons can list expiration dates, areas served and additional conditions, such as no reproductions allowed.

The daily deal sites offer a consumer protection few are aware of -- the expiration dates aren't what you may think. Groupon says the "amount paid" doesn't expire. Living Social says the amount paid doesn't expire for at least five years. That means, if you purchase a $80 deal for $40 and it expires, you can still use the $40 you paid for services at the retailer. So, if your daily deal expires, check before you throw it out.

Gift cards have their own rules as well.

Those issued by retailers: never expire, once value drops below $10 you can get the remaining in cash, and inactivity fees are allowed after a card goes unused for 24 months and its value is below $5.

Bank branded gift cards like Visa and Mastercard have a different set of rules: they can expire after five years, promotional cards can expire after just one year, and inactivity fees are allowed but only after a card goes unused for 12 months.

We want to thank TGI Friday's for taking care of that. Keep this story and these general rules handy during the upcoming holiday shopping season, and if things still don't seem quite right to you, feel free to contact 7 On Your Side.

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