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The Almighty Buck United States

WA Bans Gift-Card Expirations, Fees 269

theodp writes "The Seattle Times reports on new legislation that makes WA one of 15-20 states that have passed or are in the process of adopting laws that ban expiration dates on gift certificates, which enjoyed sales of $40+ billion last year. The consumer protection law is also expected to address the cat-and-mouse games retailers play of shopping for states with unclaimed-property laws that allow them to pocket unused gift-card value. As it so happens, Delaware state law requires a company to send unclaimed gift certificate monies to the state, while Idaho allows a company to keep the cash for itself. While an Amazon.com spokeswoman said the company would adhere to the new WA law for WA residents, she declined to say why the Seattle-headquartered and Delaware-incorporated Amazon established an Idaho company two years ago called A2Z to handle its gift-card operations."
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WA Bans Gift-Card Expirations, Fees

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  • by Senator Bozo ( 792063 ) <gki149@yahoo.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:34PM (#9545816)
    Delaware state law requires a company to send unclaimed gift certificate monies to the state

    If expiration dates on gift certificates are banned, how do they determine when a gift certificate is 'unclaimed'?

    • Well, some of the gift certificates I've recieved have said "This card expires on xx/xx/xx unless the recipient is in (X state) in which case there is no expiratiuon date".

      As for gift cards, I know some of the ones I've gotten have an "expiration date" where, after a certain time period, the card begins to depreciate in value. Always thought that one was wierd.
    • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:18PM (#9546060)
      Why not use the existing check laws as a guide? IANAL, but I believe in most states, a check left uncashed after 6 months can be deemed abandoned property.

      I have worked for both banks and wrote payroll software. Banks treat checks being redeemed that are more than 6 months old as 'dead checks' and have policies about not honoring them. Our company in Maine regularly had state auditors review the books to make sure we were turning in all monies for payroll and accounts payable checks older than 6 months that were still outstanding. It then becomes the state's job to find these people or businesses. Only after a period of time (I don't know what period that is) does it become state funds.

      This applies to personal checks also. In theory, if you send your ex-wife a check and she doesn't cash it after 6 months, you are supposed to notify the state and give them the money. Not that that has ever happened to me that I am aware of or have any remaining records.

      Ever see those lists of names in papers asking people to contact your friendly state government?? Now you know where some of them come from. I don't know if it is such a huge windfall, the state spends a lot of money auditing books and advertising to find these people, and I'm sure a lot of entrepeners spend a lot of time trying to convince people that they can 'find lost money' for a cut. It would be very interesting to see what amounts states actually end up with.
      • This applies to personal checks also. In theory, if you send your ex-wife a check and she doesn't cash it after 6 months, you are supposed to notify the state and give them the money. Not that that has ever happened to me that I am aware of or have any remaining records.

        Do checks (cheques) work differently in the US to pretty much everywhere else then? In the UK, and most other countries ive had the (mis)fortune to cash cheques from, the money is YOURS and NOONE ELSES until such time that they present

        • It is illegal in this country to issue a check without the funds to back it up. As long as the check is outstanding, there is a legal responsibility to maintain the balance of an account to support all outstanding items. You can collect interest on it, but you cannot spend it. A check is not a contract in this country, it is negotiable instrument, payable to the bearer. That is why you cannot write 'paid in full' on the memo line and have it honored.

          Consider what you are suggesting a little different. Yo
        • He said it was for an ex-wife, so I assume he is referring to some kind of obligatory alimony/child-support payments.
      • You can have whatever policies you want, but checks don't ever expire, per se, at least in my state, which follows the Uniform Commercial Code for Negotiable Instruments. Even if they have expiration dates printed on them. Checks are legally drafts on someone else's bank account, they are not contracts or even promisary notes, they do not 'expire', although they can become invalid, via account closing or stop payment orders.

        In theory, a draft can be set at a certain date in the future, and possibly the 'da

    • A valid point- I believe most accounting procedures actually require the gift certificate to be written off the books at some point.

      At my last job I worked on a prepaid calling card management system. The system in all cases required an expiration date because otherwise the company would have an infinite outstanding liability to provide the service that someone has just paid for.

      The same has to be true for retailers. Think what would happen if 500 years from now every previously outstanding gift ca
      • Nope, inflation will reduce the value to nothing.

        Think how much a Spanish Dollar (S) is worth today - nothing - it doesn't even exist anymore, except for its dollar sign ($) legacy - a stroke was put through the Yankee version - and that is less than 200 years ago in the USA...

        • Think how much a Spanish Dollar (S) is worth today - nothing - it doesn't even exist anymore

          If you were to find a Spanish dollar coin in good condition, you would be very pleased to find out how much it was worth. Inflation doesn't affect coins of pure metal content, which is why governments have historically pursued paper money (or debased metal content) if they want to launch an inflationary policy.

          • Somehow I am guessing that a 200 year old gift card with a face value of one dollar would be worth slightly less than even a brass coin.

            Inflation definitely effects gift cards. Assuming, of course, that the issuer of the gift card was even still in business (which they probably aren't).

      • They would have to give out billions of goods and services for billions of revenue that they received for nothing! Where is the issue?

        You pay me in advance for a product, I owe you that product. Just because you wait some time to come and claim it, does not mean I magically owe you nothing.

        My Folks were almost ripped off by a national chain that way, they were a week away from the expiration date.
        I don't mind if you want to sell me a gift card with an expiration date plainly stated on the card, AND if I
    • Surely they should be banned outright, considering they're letting corporations pretty much creat their own money. What's better, "hey son, here's $40" or "Hey son, here's a $40 gift certificate to a gay mens bar!". I'd rather get $40 than a $40 gift certificate since the $40 itself is useful anywhere. Frankly, our own government should be the only authority in this part of the world to coin their own money.
      An extention of this is if corporations only gave you change in coperate gift certificates, or gav
    • Probably the same way that they determine that a checking or savings account is "dormant."

      I think that (in Iowa, at least) an checking or savings account is dormant if it has not had any transactions (other than accruing interest) in two years and the owner of that account is not to be found.

      An interesting thing is that some southern and eastern states are starting to do the same rules for CD's (certificates of deposit). Those are accounts that all that can happen is for them to sit and accrue interest

  • Escheat - not keep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grolaw ( 670747 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:38PM (#9545835) Journal
    If a company has a "gift certificate" they have a contract with the buyer to provide the benefit to the buyer's designee. If nobody claims the money under the controlling state law (we might want to designate a state for the purposes of the contract) then the money is abandoned property and escheats to the state. Anything else is a windfall for the company - and remember, absent the structure of laws the company could not exist. Pay the piper and lower the tax burden.

    Besides, the company will have a major incentive to find the designee so that they can make their ordinary profit - rather than lose everything. Consumers benefit all around!
    • Whether the State gets it or the Company gets it it is critical to get this off the books. Otherwise the company slowly accululates huge on-book liabilities that probably never come due but it cant write off. The money never gets back in circulation.

      On the otherhand who should get the money. Why is the state the benificiary? Another way of giving it back is to award it to like minded customers. That is give it to the company. Their lower operating costs effectively will be returned to either the cust

      • Play fair. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eevee ( 535658 )

        Otherwise the company slowly accululates huge on-book liabilities

        But only after slowly accumulating a huge on-book asset of all that cash they've taken in. Put that money in the bank and never touch it until a gift certificate comes back in, then you'll always have the cash to offset that liability--plus the interest for free.

      • Well, if the company is a mom_and_pop shop you might have a good point. They can't afford to offend their limited market of consumers.

        If the company is Microsoft-sized (with the ethics of msft or ENRON) however, then they will have an incentive to screw the customer. They will go from x% profit on the ordinary transaction to 100% profit from the "escheat" of the gift certificate.

        And, don't forget that in both cases the company has made money "unearned income" from interest earned on the unspent funds on
      • My view is that its a private transaction between the purchaser and the company. If the purchaser fails to collect in a timely manner, then sucks to be them, and the company should be under no further obligation to the purchaser or the state. If I lend a friend $20 and I fail to collect it in a timely manner, I see no reason why the state should be able to benifit from it.
      • by Gonarat ( 177568 ) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:10PM (#9547730)

        I work in this industry, so maybe I can shed some light on the situation.

        When one purchases a gift card from XYZ store, say for $50.00, the card has no link to the customer. This means there is no name or other personal data stored on the system for that card number. We store the card number, date of issuance, location of issuance, and amount of issuance for each card.

        When XYZ takes the money for that gift card, it is not counted as revenue, since no good or service has been purchased. In the normal life of a card, purchases are made, and eventually the value of the card goes to zero. In the mean time, XYZ stores the funds in an account and makes interest off of the money.

        When gift cards were first issued, part of the "agreement" was that after 24 months of non-usage (the clock begins again after a purchase, refund, addition of funds, or a balance inquiry (for some clients). After the 24 months, a dormancy fee of (say) $2.00/month kicks in back to the last time the card was used. This means now our $50.00 gift card has $2.00 ($50 - ($2.00 * 24)) left on it. After month 25, the value would be zero.

        Dormancy is used not only to remove old cards off of the system, but to move funds to the retailer in the form of a service charge. All was well and good (from the retailer's point of view) until a case was brought forward in California. The arguement was that these are customer's funds and the Company has no right to claim them because no goods or services were exchanged. The case was won, but a new problem was presented -- who gets the funds?

        Remember, no personal data is attached to the card number, so there is no way XYZ can go back to the purchaser and say hey -- you have $50 you forgot about!

        Enter, the state. The law already states that a bank has to turn over dormant accounts to the State or Federal government (depending if the Bank is State of Federal) after a period of time (7 years if I remember correctly). States are seeing these Gift Card funds as a easy source of revenue. Although all one has to do to claim the money is produce the gift card to the State, the likelyhood of this happening is small. This basicly means low risk funds coming into the State that although technically remains on the books as unclaimed funds, can be used to help cover state budgets.

        This is a simplified version of the issue, but this for the most part what is happening. More States are looking into this as it appears friendly to the consumer while moving funds into state coffers.

  • Amazon.com (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:39PM (#9545842)
    Belive me if you want, but I'm a former Amazon.com retail customer service monkey, and I was employed when the the A2Z shell company was created. We we're essentially told that Idaho was the home of the new company for the express purpose of being able to keep expired GC's. This move coresponded very close in time to a change in policy to never extend the life of a GC past it's original date. Previously, all GC's were 1 year, but we would renew them over and over again so long as you called/emailed and asked. When I left, it was changed to 2 years, but under no circumstances could the date be moved back.

    When we all asked about just how shady this move (and dozens of other matters you don't want to know about) was, it was always sold to us as "It will help us profit, which will make your stock go up."

    However, we were not to mention these reasons to customers, but rather to fill them with some BS about having the freedom to serve them better or something like that. This resulted in the day I got in trouble for "telling the truth to a customer." Seems they didn't appreciate me explaining to a customer why Idaho is a great place to start a shell GC company.

    I think everyone should work for Amazon.com for at least a couple months. You will forever appreciate whatever other job you're at, plus you will have hundreds of hilarious stories to tell.
    • Re:Amazon.com (Score:2, Interesting)

      by spazoid12 ( 525450 )
      I work at Amazon today as an SDE.

      Please pray for me. I'm desperate for a decent job.

      What a screwy place.
    • Re:Amazon.com (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bconway ( 63464 ) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:15PM (#9546045) Homepage
      That's not shady. They're not even working around a law, they're doing something that's expressly legal.

      Personally, I don't see the point for these laws. I live in a state that either has a no-expiration law or extends the expiration to something ridiculous like 7 years (I can't remember which), but I can't remember the last time I kept a gift card for more than a month or two. Are people really burying these things? A year is still a lot more generous than the 60- or 90-day expiration on a personal check (not a comparable analogy, I know).
      • I can't remember the last time I kept a gift card for more than a month or two. Are people really burying these things?

        I just used some two year old cards at Best Buy. (Kept waiting for them to offer iPods at my local store and finally gave up.) I'd be surprised if I'm the only one who keeps them around for a while.

        That said, the cards said they had no expiration date -- if they had, I would have used them earlier. I recognize the logic of not allowing consumers to sign away certain rights but it's not obv

      • Re:Amazon.com (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:53PM (#9546254)
        It is shady. The company has cash earning interest, the customer has a certificate losing value in exact proportion to the currency it's denominated in. I've received gift certificates for goods from companies that offered nothing I wanted, and had to wait years until they got something I liked.

        A gift certificate is like an anonymous savings account that bears no interest and can only be used at one company.

        • Re:Amazon.com (Score:3, Interesting)

          It is shady. The company has cash earning interest, the customer has a certificate losing value in exact proportion to the currency it's denominated in. I've received gift certificates for goods from companies that offered nothing I wanted, and had to wait years until they got something I liked.

          This isn't shady, or dishonest, or unethical. It's merely stupid - on the part of the buyer. The buyer either knows full well that he's lending his money to the company at no interest (by buying goods in advance)
      • Re:Amazon.com (Score:4, Informative)

        by Red Warrior ( 637634 ) * on Monday June 28, 2004 @02:38AM (#9548748) Homepage Journal
        I've actually used a gift card that I noticed a year after I'd gotten it. When I get a gift card, it either goes in my junk drawer (where my checkbook is) or in my wallet. Then I forget about it until I want something specific. I treat it (improperly, it would seem, given this story) like cash.

        Gift cards to someplace like, say Pier 1 can easily age a year or more. I only used it because I noticed it had an experation date.

        Feh. Use cash. it doesn't expire. And it doesn't require people to buy stuff that they may not need just to avoid loosing it.

    • Re:Amazon.com (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eskayp ( 597995 )
      As a resident of Idaho, I can see why Amazon would play their 'shell game' here. Idaho government is controlled by business and has a history of anti-consumer, anti-worker, and anti-education legislation. Neoconservatism and a overwhelmingly Republican legislature ensure that corporations will have a free hand to do business however they see fit. Many Idahoans like to posture as independent minded conservatives, but Idaho's laws and economy are of, by, and for business. A2Z was probably welcomed here w
    • we do want to know the other dozen matters...
      please share, it's only right...
  • by Killswitch1968 ( 735908 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:42PM (#9545856)
    I'll elaborate:

    1. First of all at the initial purchasing of this piece of plastic/paper, the retailer gets straight up cash with no physical loss of goods until possibly months later. In that time the money could be used for all sorts of useful things.
    2. People who receive gift certificates feel obligated to use them to their full amount, otherwise they will lose the value of the card. The only problem is few things are exactly worth $20, so the consumer is forced to either pay up their own money for something, or buy something for less than the value of the card.
    3. Gift certificates can't be banked or deposited, they can only be storted in some physical location, making them far easier to lose than money.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't mind buying or receiving gift certificates. They have saved me tons of time buying gifts. But I think it's clear retailers are getting quite a deal out of it.
    • "The only problem is few things are exactly worth $20, so the consumer is forced to either pay up their own money for something, or buy something for less than the value of the card."

      Killswitch is right. Once, I had a gift certificate for Gamestop for $30, and could only find a game that cost $29.99. Paying the tax out of pocket, I was left with a leftover balance of $0.01. Suffice to say, I had to THEN spend another $30 in order to empty the card of it's value :(
    • Mind games (Score:5, Insightful)

      by achurch ( 201270 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:09PM (#9546021) Homepage

      2. People who receive gift certificates feel obligated to use them to their full amount, otherwise they will lose the value of the card. The only problem is few things are exactly worth $20, so the consumer is forced to either pay up their own money for something, or buy something for less than the value of the card.

      This is probably the biggest benefit to the retailers. I myself just received a 300-yen gift certificate from amazon.co.jp good for three months or so, and while I know enough about the system not to run out and spend it (plus my own money) on some random thing, I have to admit the temptation is there to find something I'd want anyway and get it before the gift certificate expires.

      If Japan had a law preventing expiration, that psychological pressure would definitely be lessened.

      • I myself just received a 300-yen gift certificate

        Um... 300 yen is less than 3 American Dollars ($2.79 to be exact) with the current exchange rate. You must know some pretty cheap people...
        • It was a promotion from Amazon. I'm not sure for what, but they must have been running something last time I bought from them. <shrug>

          • by catch23 ( 97972 )
            I think amazon has better promotions than a 300-yen promotion. That's like McDonalds giving away "free ketchup" for every large fries you order.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:42PM (#9545859)
    I received a $50 Best Buy gift certificate for Christmas but I cannot find it anywhere!

    At least now I know that I have a lifetime to search for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:42PM (#9545861)
    There are other ways of getting to the money. Simon Properties, a popular Mall management / owner company, offers gift cards. For each month of inactivity, they charge a fee ... something like $1.25 or so, around what an ATM fee might be. So if you get a $40 gift card, use $30 of it and leave it for 5 months, you've got a $0 balance.

    Starbucks is or was doing something similar if I recall correctly.

    They'll get you one way or another.

    AC
  • by kevinbarsby ( 558876 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:46PM (#9545880)

    I've more than once managed to use an expired gift voucher, with some gentle persuasion.

    I guess it boils down to the store and how rigid they are with their policies, but if they reject it, then they run the risk of you shopping elsewhere.

    • On a related note, some companies will ignore the expiration dates, even without a law. The movie theater chain I work (National Amusements) for between semesters will take any gift certificate/coupon issued by them, at least in southern CT, even if it has expired. The last shift I worked, a customer had certificates of a type that hadn't been issued in 10 years, yet I still had to take them. We also give change for the remainder of the cert if the purchase is less than the full value of the certificate.
    • I guess it boils down to the store and how rigid they are with their policies, but if they reject it, then they run the risk of you shopping elsewhere.
      One should note that this isn't too much of a loss for the company as they already have the money.
  • by siliconjunkie ( 413706 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:50PM (#9545912)
    "Gift Cards" offered by retailers are one of those phenomena in which it pays to read the fine print. Some people would assume, incorrectly, that there is some kind of "set standard" for gift card practices, when, in fact, you don't really know what you are "buying". I worked for a retailer that, on occasion gave away "$25 coupons" (not gift card/certificates) with every "$50 purchase", but, due to fine print in the company's "gift card" policy, the shopper could not apply "gift card purchases" toward that offer. The way the fine print stated it, the "purchase" of a gift card is not a "purchase" at all, as the actual "purchase" occours when the gift card is redeemed.

    I always thought this was a little shady, as the customer is actually handing over their money (ie: purchasing) when they buy the gift card, but my company's legal team didn't see it that way, insisting that "gift cards" did not constitute a "product" being purchased, it was simply money exchanged between "accounts".
    • I always thought this was a little shady, as the customer is actually handing over their money (ie: purchasing) when they buy the gift card, but my company's legal team didn't see it that way, insisting that "gift cards" did not constitute a "product" being purchased, it was simply money exchanged between "accounts".

      Accountants easily fall into the trap of thinking that all the numbers they have to juggle actually mean something, when the only meaningful numbers are "income" and "expenditure". (This is no
      • On CBS radio, there was a quick blurb about reaping profit by selling off stock to new departments in your company (they said they could be your 'best customer'). I heard it, and couldn't imagine how insane you'd have to be to think that selling something to yourself caused anything but a shifting of numbers across a spreadsheet.

        • I heard it, and couldn't imagine how insane you'd have to be to think that selling something to yourself caused anything but a shifting of numbers across a spreadsheet.

          How those numbers sit on a spreadsheet can determine how much tax you owe.
          Computers, for example, can't (normally) be expensed, they have to be depreciated.
          Sell them to another department for a dollar, and you can realize the loss immediately.

          This insanity brought to you by the IRS.

    • if it is just ' money exchanged between "accounts".' then that makes them a bank dealing in there own currency which has all kinds of regulations.
  • Doesn't make sense (Score:3, Interesting)

    by deadkarma ( 170315 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:51PM (#9545919)
    I'm not entirely sure we need a law to govern this. If someone is naive enough to take money that is good everywhere and make it good only in one place and expire after a while, then so be it I say.
    • Gifts to children (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KimJ721 ( 732612 )
      If I'm giving a gift to a child (say, a niece or nephew), I often give gift certificates. For one thing, it's hard for me to keep up with the latest trends. I have one cousin who is very into manga and it would be impossible for me to keep up with what she's read and what she hasn't. This way, the kids can choose what they want from a particular store.

      Why not just give them cash? Some teens and tweens aren't very wise with their choices, and I prefer to let their parents worry about their spending. For ex

  • Bah Humbug (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:51PM (#9545926)
    Holiday gift exchanges with my extended family has devolved into exchanging various gift certificates from big box retail chains. IMO, this is pretty stupid, since all we're doing is mutually constraining our purchase options. Plus, it's just another thing that I have to remember is buried in my wallet. I've gone to stores over and over, forgetting each time to use one of their gift cards that's been in my wallet for over a year.

    I wonder why it's acceptable to send someone an Amazon gift card as a present, but it's not acceptable to send them $20 cash, which would be more generally useful.

    Maybe it's because then we would realize that the cash exchange cancels out to zero. If we convert the cash to a non-interchangeable form of private money, it makes it seem like the whole exercise has some kind of point.

    I guess it's yet another example of an opportunity for smart proprietors to profit off of a common logic flaw in the human brain.

    • Re:Bah Humbug (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There are a couple of reasons gift certificates are popular.

      Firstly, giving a GC shows that you actually went out to the store and shopped for them. Many people equate cash presents with "Oh, so you forgot it was my birthday until the last minute?"

      Secondly, a GC can force the recipient to make a certain type of purchase. Cash gifts often wind up being spent on groceries, or rent, or gasoline. If you give someone a Best Buy GC, you can be fairly certain they'll buy a fun luxury item, rather then some mu
      • Re:Bah Humbug (Score:3, Interesting)

        you can be fairly certain they'll buy a fun luxury item

        It also frees the person from the guilt of not spending the cash on some necessity, i.e. new shoes for baby, etc.

        Also, I may know that somebody is a gamer, but have no clue what games he's played or not. So I get him a gift certificate to some game store, and he picks what he wants. Problem solved.

      • Unless, of course, they use the GC to buy a gift for someone else. Which I've done more then once.

    • "Plus, it's just another thing that I have to remember is buried in my wallet. I've gone to stores over and over, forgetting each time to use one of their gift cards that's been in my wallet for over a year."

      You could always set it aside one day and plan out when you're going to use it. You might even be able to go on their website and find what you want before you actually go into the store(assuming that you don't want to pay shipping costs for shopping online).

      I've never actually tried this, but it se
  • by kninja ( 121603 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:52PM (#9545929)
    ...this was a statistic quoted to me by a guy who sold these for a living. I sat next to him on a plane back in January.

    He sold gift cards to smaller companies, mom and pop stores (not Best Buy or Amazon type juggernauts), and used the main selling points that it was often instant revenue, and the 12% that was never used became pure profit for the company.

    He also said that these things sold themselves. I guess he never tried to sell them in Delaware.
  • by phaetonic ( 621542 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:56PM (#9545953)
    It should be of no surprise, especially to investors, that a company like amazon would use the law to their advantage and open A2Z where they did. Bezos (and his cohorts) have made amazon one of the most popular online shopping sites in the world with alliances including cdnow, toys r us, office depot, circuit city, and others. Their stock has been doing very well for a while now.

    Lets not forget the best part of online gift certs.. you can buy them the same day you need them, from your work, because you forgot about your 's birthday/anniversery, etc.
  • now if only (Score:3, Interesting)

    by howman ( 170527 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @05:56PM (#9545955)
    they could get rid of that pesky, so much per month charge for unused card, thing like they have on the starbucks card...
    Starbucks makes it out like it is costing them a fortune to keep a database file of how much you have on their card.
    I will explain, too long, I will sum up, You get a card at $B, put money on it, if you don't use it for a certain period, they wipe it clean and you are done, or if you neglect to use it for a period they charge you for not using it...
    sound fair to you, or should I say, sound fare?
    Don't know about you but it leaves me with a bad taste of burnt coffee in my mouth, of course this just might be the $B coffee I had this morning.

    • Re:now if only (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eggboard ( 315140 ) *
      The Washington law doesn't allow gift card issues to charge the maintenance fee, but they can now keep the money if it's unused for some period of time -- I was unclear on whether that was still three years.
      • Re:now if only (Score:2, Interesting)

        by howman ( 170527 )
        I was, unclearly, speaking only from my experience here in Japan and In Canada... Thanks though for the input on 3 years as if memory serves me correct in Canada, they trash the value of your card if you don't use it for 12 consecutive months, and charge you somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2 per month that it is unused up to the amount on the card or 12 months which ever comes first.
        I am still deciphering the notations on the back of my Japanese card, but I suspect it is the same.
        I would not doubt
  • Gift cards, blecchh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by secondsun ( 195377 ) <secondsun@gmail.com> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:16PM (#9546049) Journal
    I have never understood gift cards or gift certificates. If I don't know what to get a person I do the best thing possible, get them a nice card they will like, a book, and 20$. Then the recpiaint gets what he/she wants and I get the satisfaction of knowing I didn't just give them 20$ at the last minute. Gift cards give money to a store you may or may not shop at for no real benefit to the recipiant. Last Christmas I received 2 25$ gift cards to chain resturants form family. Unfortunately I live in rural Georgia and it is a 30 minutes drive to the nearest McDonalds and an hour plus drive to a Buffaloes, Moe's, Joe's crab shack, Roadhouse Grill, etc.

    SO would someone here please explain why people buy gift cards instead of cheap gift + cash? (Which is all giftcards are in my eyes)
    • by NeoSkandranon ( 515696 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:34PM (#9546151)
      I work at a bookstore. Lots of people have friends/family that read, however have NO clue WHAT they read (genre/author etc)
      Around christmas we sell STACKS of gift certs for precisely this reason. Besides that, many avid readers enjoy the pleasure of coming to shop around for an hour or two before deciding on something. I myself love getting gift certs (esp now that i get a discount on the books...) because then i get to go look around at everything and so forth.

      Ideally one would consider what stores the giftee would be likely to shop at and purchase gift certs appropriately, but it sounds like your family didn't really consider that.
      Gift cards are great when you are pretty sure someone would like something at that store (Best Buy/ Electronics Botique for us /t'ers for example) but aren't sure specifically what. You also run the risk of purchasing somethign they already have/aren't interested in. The card also means you at least THOUGHT about what they MIGHT like instead of popping a 20 in a Hallmark card

      Hope that clarifies some.
    • Some people, like 14 year old cousins with a marijuana charge on their record, can't be trusted with cash.

      Plus, giving cash makes it clear you don't really know enough about the person to give them an appropriate gift. At least, with a gift certificate, you can narrow it down a bit for their interests.

      A gift certificate can also be a way of forcing the person to splurge a bit, but still letting them get exactly what they want. e.g. a gift certificate for some pricy store to a person that normally shops a
    • I have never understood gift cards or gift certificates.... Last Christmas I received 2 25$ gift cards to chain resturants form family. Unfortunately I live in rural Georgia and it is a 30 minutes drive to the nearest McDonalds and an hour plus drive to a Buffaloes, Moe's, Joe's crab shack, Roadhouse Grill, etc.

      This is not necessarily something bad about gift cards--it just shows that you got a gift you can't easily use, such as if I was given a mower (I live in an apartment). Personally, I only give someo

  • by NIK282000 ( 737852 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:35PM (#9546159) Homepage Journal
    .. Should be changed to Canadian Tire money, its so simple and they give you some back every time you make a purchace its the burden, erm, gift that keeps on giving.
    • Hmm, at least Calgary Co-op honors Safeway discount vouchers (and vice versa), but nobody wants to honor another store's gift vouchers.

      Many years ago a friend of mine managed to pay a prostitute in Mexico with Canadian Tire money, but then they were chased by the pimps for the rest of their stay...

  • It's very simple (Score:4, Interesting)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:43PM (#9546207)
    Stores need to have a finite life to gift cards. Their accountants need to know what's in stock, what's capital and what's currently able to be claimed. How long can a store sit on capital in the name of unclaimed gift cards?

    They need to keep the cash flow going in the name of a good economy. Why should they be force to forever ponder the future fate of capital based on 25 year old gift cards?

    And for all of you out there questioning the rights and wrongs of cash vs. gift card... Go ask Martha Stewart... This is Slashdot, not Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; Christmas Edition. Now off with ya!
      • They need to keep the cash flow going in the name of a good economy. Why should they be force to forever ponder the future fate of capital based on 25 year old gift cards?

      Because some of them market the gift cards as essentially cash replacements. If they're going to market it that way, then they need to treat it that way. I don't mind a gift certificate that expires when it's marketed that way, but I do think charging fees and taking the money and running when you tried to convince me it was just a

      • Because some of them market the gift cards as essentially cash replacements.

        To be very honest with you I've never seen one that claims that it's a cash replacement or represents itself as such.

        The buyer need beware. This is true of just about all aspects of marketing. Read the fine print. Hell, most people spend more time deciding on what they're going to eat any any given day than they do in deciding how their money will be spent.
  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:00PM (#9546284)
    ...all the thought of cash, just not as good.

    Seriously, why do people give these things? **NOBODY** wouldn't rather have cash. I suppose people think that it proves that they put some kind of thought into it, but they're wrong. "Oh, he's a techie person, give him a CompUSA gift card." Gee, thanks. If I had cash instead I could get the tech stuff I *want* instead of what CompUSA happens to have. Or maybe my car is broken this week, but it's hard to get the mechanic to take a $100 CompUSA card in payment.
    • it's hard to get the mechanic to take a $100 CompUSA card in payment.

      Sure he would, just not for its full $100 value, maybe some proportion dependent on whether he needed it or could sell it on, etc etc...
    • I sometimes prefer gift cards to cash, and some gift cards are worth at least as much as cash to me. Let's say that I am going to purchase $20 of camping equipment I want but don't really need, whether or not I have a gift card. If I purchase it using a gift card I received, I don't feel guilty about not spending my money more wisely, since I couldn't spend that money on anything else. So, in that sense a gift card could be more valuable to me, if it allows me to purchase something guilt free.

      Similarly, wh
  • by psoriac ( 81188 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:00PM (#9546285)
    I think this is a great move by the state for consumer protection. I only wish the federal government would pass similar legislation.

    I recently purchased a Jamba Juice card because they were offering a free drink with the purchase of a $25 card, and I figured that since I was going to spend that much eventually anyway, I might as well get a free drink out of it.

    I noticed on the back that if you don't use your card for 12 months, they start deducting $2 a month for every subsequent month you don't use it as a "maintenance fee". While I applaud them for putting this on the card itself, I still think it's wrong. You've basically given them cash; they have no right to start taking it from you just because you haven't asked for any back in a while. The interest they're making on the amount I "deposited" should be more than enough. (And before anyone points out that $25 is not much interest, think about 4,000 people buying cards... all of a sudden, interest on $100,000 doesn't seem so small anymore does it?)
  • booking of sales (Score:4, Interesting)

    by XO ( 250276 ) <blade.eric@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:03PM (#9546302) Homepage Journal
    Here's the deal:

    Gift CERTIFICATES and gift CARDS are actually two seperate products, covered under different laws.

    A gift CERTIFICATE will have an expiration date normally of 3-6 months from date of issuance. When a company sells a CERTIFICATE, they book the sale immediatly, and then book a loss when the certificate is redeemed.

    A gift CARD, however, is a pre-paid credit card. Like a normal credit card, it has an expiration date that is usually astronomically longer than a CERTIFICATE.. if -ever-. And a company does not book a SALE on the card until the card is actually USED. A company that I used to work for issues gift cards with NO expiration date - however, on the back of the gift card, it does state that if the card is not used at any point during a consecutive three-year period, $1.00 will be taken from the card (and they get to write that up as a sale, in the company) for every successive year after that three year period, until the card is used by a customer (then it starts it's three years over again), or the value of the card is depleted (by either use, or charging $1.00 to it every year for virtually damn forever).

    In this company's case, it's about booking it. If the card is ever lost, and never recovered, it will eventually expire, and generate future sales at the rate of $1 per year. Yes, in the case of a $400 gift card, that could take a bare minimum of 403 years from date of issuance.

    • A gift CARD, however, is a pre-paid credit card.

      Thanks for clarifying; that's what I was thinking at first. But then I realized that they are not exactly prepaid credit cards. They aren't because they are not tied to a specific account.

      Compare to prepaid cell phone cards. The 20 or 30 bucks you have to buy every few months to keep the card "active", even if you don't use your minutes, is basically a service charge or fee (read: penalty). Those too would probalby fall under Washington's laws if it we
    • Re:booking of sales (Score:4, Informative)

      by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:23PM (#9547119)
      However, increasingly states are passing laws that say "Forget it, if you sell a gift card here it's really a gift certificate so go see the book of laws that apply to that."

      In Massachusetts, the tipping point was the bankruptcy of the Bradlee's department store chain. Bradlee's sold their gift cards up until the day that the announced their bankruptcy after business hours. The next day, when the stores reopened in the hands of a liquidator, the liquidator refused to honor the gift cards because they claimed they were not responsible for the liablities of the failed company, they were just their to extract whatever value possible from the assets.

      The state eventually pressured the store into getting the liquidator to accept the cards by threatening to represent the card-holding consumers of the state as a stakeholder in the bankruptcy, which would have made a serious mess since all of the unclaimed cards would come back to haunt an already troubled company. Instead, it was simply announced that the cards were good at face value for the remainder of the going out of business sale until the end at which point they'd be worthless. The reform law was not far behind at that point.
  • Michigan's Law (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:17PM (#9546401) Homepage
    In Michigan, gift certificates are supposed to last five years. After five years, if it is worth more than $50, then the state is supposed to get the money. Any individual who can prove the money is theirs can get the money from the state. If it's less than $50, then the business can just keep it after five years.

    However, apparently no one follows this law. I see plenty of businesses that attempt to limit their gift certificates, some even for only 6 months.

    I wonder if Washington will have any more luck than Michigan in enforcing their law.

  • M&S = Marks & Spencers, high street department store type place for those not in the UK.
    They don't expire.
    3 years ago, my mother spent the M&S gift vouchers that they had recieved at their wedding 22 years after having been given them..
    No doubt the person behind the counter was shocked to be given a gift voucher older than they were, but it was still valid.
    However, it hadn't survived inflation very well, 2 1 vouchers were still worth 2. Unfortunately, 2 is not worth nearly as much as what i
  • by nasor ( 690345 )
    I'm just as against big companies screwing people as anyone else, but I don't really see the point of laws like this. If a company wants to say that gift cards expire after a year (or a month, or 10 years), what's the problem? So long as the customer knows about it when they purchase the gift card, it's just a mutually voluntary transaction between two consenting parties. I could understand a law requiring companies to explicitly warn customers about expiration dates when they buy the card, but it seems sil
  • They really should have put this energy into legislating against the real scam currently being run by retailers and manufacturers, namely, rebates.
    • They really should have put this energy into legislating against the real scam currently being run by retailers and manufacturers, namely, rebates.

      I agree. Some retailers want a bit of everything including the UPC, box top, original sales reciept, etc. to make sure rebate breakage is high. They also list prices on the shelf in big print as after rebate, not the price you have to pay now which is in very fine print. (Best Buy) A couple times I put stuff back on the shelf as I was mis-lead to the price of s
  • by saikou ( 211301 ) on Monday June 28, 2004 @05:19AM (#9549208) Homepage
    Much easier, though it will cost you extra $5 or so. But then the recepient gets to shop at ANY store. Or that $20 can be spent at the gas station (just go inside and ask for $20 worth of gas, the pump will shut off automatically once it reaches the limit ;) )
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Monday June 28, 2004 @08:12AM (#9549658)
    Doesn't the government issue its own Gift certificates, usable at any store nationwide, available in convenient amounts ($1 $5 $10 $20 $50 $100). For those interested in history, they have pictures of past presidents and founding fathers on one side.

    These do not have any expiration date, and do not have any fees attached (but of course they are affected by inflation.)

    Why not use these when its gift giving time?
  • USE IT AS TAX MONEY! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lcsjk ( 143581 ) on Monday June 28, 2004 @10:49AM (#9550781)
    For two years the company has free use of the gift card money to obtain free interest. Sure there is some maintenance cost, but not much. After that time the money is unused and really does not belong to the company. For the benefit of all people, the money could best be used as other taxes to the state or federal government, although I don't think the federal gov is allowed to collect those kinds of revenue as tax. Perhaps the card agreement should have an opt-in/out clause of whether they want the expired card money to go to the corporation or the state.

Heisengberg might have been here.

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