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Ask the Experts

When Do Gift Cards Expire?

Generally in 5 years from date of purchase, but fees can erode value after 12 months

Q. I'm thinking about getting my grandchildren gift cards for the holidays. But I'm concerned about expiration dates. What's the shelf life of a gift card?

Holiday gift cards generally expire within five years - image of gift card

A gift card should be used sooner rather than later. Wait, and fees could eat away at its value. — Photo by iStockphoto

A. Under federal law, a gift card cannot expire in less than five years after the date of purchase. But if it’s not used within 12 months, fees for inactivity, dormancy or service can be charged to the card each month, diminishing its value. Those fees must be disclosed to the user in advance, and no more than one fee can be charged per month. So make sure that you — and your grandchildren — understand when the fees will kick in so that the full value of their cards can be used.

You may also like: Give a gift — not a grift — card. >>

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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