Gift cards continue to be a very popular gift giving solution.  Before you buy or receive a gift card this holiday season, be sure you know which protections apply to your card, as they may vary depending on the type of card you buy.

Most gift cards have limits on expiration dates and fees provided by federal law and many state laws .
At a minimum, the value of your gift card won’t expire for at least 5 years unless you don’t use the card for 12 months.

There are certain exceptions to these gift card consumer protections.  The following do NOT have gift card protections:
1. Rebate Cards  (like rebate checks)
2. Loyalty, rewards or promotional gift cards (such as gift cards redeemed with credit card points)
3. General Purpose Reloadable “Prepaid Cards”

The following MAY NOT have gift card protections:
1. Discounted gift cards
2. Paper gift certificates

Finally, retailers may declare bankruptcy  and shut their doors. If you have a gift card from one of these businesses, you will likely have little hope in being able to use the gift card.  If you do decide to try to obtain money through the bankruptcy proceedings, you will need to figure out the actual name of the company (name the company is registered as doing business as), the bankruptcy court that is overseeing the proceedings, and complete and submit the appropriate paperwork.  Even then, you may not see a penny for a long period of time.

Our final words of advice on gift cards:
If you HAVE or RECEIVE a gift card, use it ASAP!
If you give a gift card, make sure the recipient is aware of any fees and expiration dates.  Include the receipt with the gift card.