Beginning January 1 in Illinois, the expiration date on gift cards must be five years and no fees can be charged that will diminish gift card value.

The treasurer of the state of Illinois, Alexi Giannoulias (jeh-NOO’-lee-ehs), says his office is holding more than $5 million in unused gift card balances for Illinois residents. Unclaimed balances are forwarded to the state. Prior to the law change on January 1, only retailers incorporated in Illinois were required to remit unused gift card balances to the state of Illinois. Retailers incorporated outside the state remitted the unused balances to their state of incorporation IF that state had an unclaimed property law covering gift cards. Otherwise, the retailer kept the unused balances. One way the retailers try to avoid sending the unused funds to a state is to diminish their value by charging monthly “maintenance” fees on the unused balance until that balance is used up. So the new law is a significant change for the better for Illinois consumers.

Most gift card retailers do not record name or contact information for the purchaser or recipient. Unredeemed balances come to the state marked as “owner unknown”. The purchaser or recipient must file a claim with the Treasurer’s Office using the serial number on the expired gift card.

Nationwide $8 billion in gift cards went unused in the United States last year. If you or your gift giver paid for the gift card with a credit card, the serial number of the gift card purchased is often printed on the credit card receipt. This will help in filing a claim with the state that the gift card funds you are seeking really do belong to you.

See my earlier post on gift cards here.