State of Minnesota
More about
Attorney General
Lori Swanson

Minnesota Attorney General's Office

1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

(651) 296-3353
(800) 657-3787

M - F 8 am - 5 pm

TTY:(651) 297-7206
TTY:(800) 366-4812

Gift Cards and Gift Certificates

If you’ve ever not known what to buy someone as a gift, you may have turned to gift cards or gift certificates. Not all gift cards and gift certificates are the same. Knowing your rights and being mindful of the fine print can help prevent your gift card or certificate from expiring or having its balance consumed by fees. Before purchasing a gift card or certificate, you should know the following information:

The Gift Card Laws. Both state and federal law regulate gift card practices:

Minnesota law generally prohibits the sale of a gift card or certificate that has an expiration date or that is subject to any type of service fee (including a dormancy fee). However, as described below, this law contains a number of exceptions that allow the issuers of several types of gift cards and certificates to impose expiration dates or service fees.

Federal law allows a dormancy, inactivity, or service fee to be charged only if: (1) there has been no activity on the card in the last 12-months; (2) the applicability of any such fee is clearly disclosed on the gift card; and (3) not more than one such fee is charged each month. Federal law prohibits gift cards and gift certificates from containing expiration dates less than five years after the date on which the card or certificate was issued or the date that funds were last loaded onto the gift card (whichever is later). One notable exception to the federal laws protecting gift cards and certificates, however, is that they do not apply to cards or certificates issued in paper form only.

Use Caution When Purchasing A Gift Card or Certificate. You should only purchase gift cards and gift certificates from reputable merchants and retailers. Some people purchase gift cards or certificates only to later see the retailer go out of business or file bankruptcy. If you pay money upfront for a gift card or certificate from a retailer that closes its doors, you will likely have lost your money. As a result, you should only purchase gift cards and certificates from reputable merchants that you are sure will not go out of business.

Fees. Make sure you know what fees, if any, apply to the gift card or certificate. Under state law, most issuers of gift cards and certificates may not impose fees, but some issuers may charge purchase fees, monthly maintenance fees, inactivity fees, etc. depending on the circumstances. Federal law prohibits such fees unless one of the three exceptions described above applies. Check to see whether the card or certificate that you are buying charges these fees.

Expiration Dates. Most gift cards may not contain expiration dates under state law. In addition, federal law generally prohibits gift cards or gift certificates that contain an expiration date sooner than five years after the date on which the card was issued. Make sure you know whether there is an expiration date for the card or certificate.

Where You Can Use The Card. A gift card or gift certificate issued by a particular retailer often can only be used at the store at which it was purchased (or an affiliated store). However, some gift cards, like those attached to major credit card companies and national banks, can be used at many places nationwide.

Lost Or Stolen Cards. You are usually out of luck if your gift card or gift certificate is lost or stolen. Know the rules for how the company deals with a lost or stolen card or certificate. Will the company issue you a replacement card or certificate? If an unauthorized person uses the card or certificate, will you be compensated?

Pass All Information To The Recipient. If information about fees, expiration dates, and other matters appears on a separate document, make sure the information is passed to the recipient of the gift card. Giving the recipient this information will ensure that they make the most of your gift.

Why Can Certain Gift Cards with Service Fees and Expiration Dates Be Sold In Minnesota? While Minnesota law generally prohibits merchants from issuing gift cards or certificates that contain an expiration date or service fees, state law contains several exceptions. For example, state law does not prohibit service fees or expiration dates on the following types of gift cards and gift certificates:

  • Those issued by a federally chartered or state-chartered bank, bank and trust, savings bank, savings association, or credit union, which can be used at multiple sellers of goods and services. These cards will likely carry the logo of the issuing bank or a payment card network (i.e., VISA or MasterCard).
  • Those distributed to a consumer for loyalty, promotional, award, incentive, or other similar purposes without the consumer giving any money or other tangible thing of value in exchange for the card.
  • Those sold below face value or at a volume discount to employers or to nonprofit and charitable organizations for fundraising purposes.
  • Those issued by an employer to an employee in recognition of services performed by the employee.

Know Your Rights. If you have questions or concerns about gift cards or gift certificates, or wish to file a consumer complaint, contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353
1-800-657-3787
TTY: (651) 297-7206
TTY: 1-800-366-4812

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