Most Popular Item: Gift Cards

We love the convenience of gift
cards, but there’s always been a niggling drawback. What do you do when
your gift card has just two or three dollars left on it? That probably
won’t cover another purchase and retailers have never been required to
give it back to you in cash, until now.

The National Retail Federation
says Americans will spend a record $26 billion on gift cards this year,
and two-thirds of us will buy at least one this holiday season. And
when we give them as gifts, they are often only partially used.

You get a gift card, if you remember to use it, you may not find something for the precise full amount," says Richard Holober, the executive director of the California Consumer Federation.

Holober says a lot of gift
cards are left with real money not being used. Small amounts left over
often go to waste and in fact, retailers are allowed to start drawing
down the money once a card is left with less than five dollars and
unused for two years.

"We just want to make sure that
when you purchase that gift card, you’re not making a donation to your
local retailer," says St. Sen. Ellen Corbet.

State Senator Ellen Corbett got
fed up watching all that money go to waste. So she authored a new law
that says beginning January 1, California retailers must give you cash
back if you have less than $10 left on your gift cards. A couple
dollars here and a few there, and it can really add up.

This is the latest state law to
protect gift card buyers and users. Here’s some others — retailers in
California may not put expiration dates on their gift cards, they can’t
legally charge service fees for use of the cards, and they can’t deduct
value from gift cards just because you haven’t used it, unless it’s
worth less than five dollars and it’s been dormant for at least two

"Starting January 1, gift cards
will be a gift to the person receiving them and not just a gift to the
retailer, and that’s a good thing," says Holober.

There are many exceptions to
the gift card laws. They don’t cover bank cards which can have lots of
fees attached. Also, they don’t apply to promotional gifts or those
given away for charitable purposes

What do you think is this
year’s most popular gift item? No, it’s not that hard-to-find video
game console, it’s the gift card. There’s a new law that could make
gift cards even more appealing.