How many times have you received a gift card and never bothered to use it or used only part of it-or just flat out lost it? I know I do that all the time. And so do a lot of people. Indeed, according to the WaII Street Journal and research by Tower-Group, each year Americans spend about $65 billion in gift cards but don't redeem $6.8 billion.
Here's the good news: Depending on where you live, state law may require that unused gift cards and gift certificates with expiration dates or services fees must be turned over as unclaimed property.
In most cases, if you are given a gift card or certificate with a specific date, the unused balance is presumed abandoned five years from date of purchase. If the gift card is rechargeable, depending on the state, it may be considered abandoned five years from the date of the last owner-initiated transaction.
Of course, each state has its own laws for unclaimed gift cards and its own system for finding these unclaimed assets. So your best bet is to first to Google the state treasurer's office in your state. Once you've arrived at their website, navigate to their unclaimed assets department and see if they have an area where you can search for abandoned gift cards.
A great example of what I'm talking about here is the State of Illinois' Treasury website. Remember I told you how I originally learned about unclaimed assets from the Illinois state treasurer? Well, her office has a website with an area called "Cash Dash" that lays out exactly how people in Illinois can reclaim these assets. Chances are that your state has something similar—so go and look.
By the way, retailers hate me telling you this. Many national chains have gone out of their way to move their gift-certificate business to states that haven't yet created laws to protect consumers from losing money on unused or expired gift cards. Consumer Reports regards this issue as so important that they launched a public education campaign about the pitfalls associated with gift cards, using the headline: "Last year, shoppers like you were out $8 billion because of unused, lost or expired gift cards..." Hard to believe—but all true, so go and take a look and find some of your money today!
David Bach is the author of the New York Times bestseller Debt Free for Life and founder of www.finishrich.com.
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