Gift cards are a holiday favorite. Americans spend at least $100 billion on gift cards every year.
But this year a reminder to read the fine print. Missoula resident Beverly Smith recounted an incident her friend ran into. She saved a stack of Missoula Downtown Association (MDA) gift cards to buy one big ticket item. All together the woman had $90.
“She got up to purchase her item and they told her it no longer had the face value,” Smith said. “She had $90, now only $45 dollars so she basically lost half of her money.”
Montana laws states that a gift certificate is valid until redemption and does not expire. It goes on to say a gift certificate may not be reduced in value by any fee, including a dormancy fee applied if a certificate is not used.
But there's a catch. The MDA uses an out of state gift card provider, Store Financial, so it’s not governed by state law. That's the case for businesses all around Montana because there isn't an in-state card provider.
“Occasionally we have customers that are frustrated because they haven't used their card,” said MDA Executive Director Linda McCarthy.
In this case, if the card is inactive for 12 months the company can charge a monthly fee of $2.50. The MDA now labels its cards and card holders with the policy.
But Smith said that’s not enough. “Why haven't we looked for another company that more reflects Montana values of gift cards and our law?”
McCarthy said she doesn’t have any plans to change the program.
“We like the program, we think it works well for us,” McCarthy said. “Christmas time we'll sell $80,000 to $100,000 in gift cards so it's a financially beneficial for our folks.”
For more on state laws click here.