Sunday, June 26, 2011

Don't Let Your Money Expire

How awful would it be to have money that expires?  Now, you're probably thinking "Mike that's crazy talk" but it's not.  In fact I'm willing to bet you have money that expires right now but you just don't know it.  That's okay, that's why you're here.  You will learn to be a Jedi of your bank account.  Consider me your financial Yoda.

So, where is this expiring money I'm talking about?  It's loaded onto gift cards.  Yep, that gift card to the movie theater you got for you Christmas or that visa gift card you won is probably guilty as well.  What most people don't know is that gift cards, whether they be for cash or for use at a specific store, are often times set to expire after a certain amount of time or at the very least begin to incur dormancy fees after x number of months.

I'm looking on the back of a visa gift card I have right now.  It says "monthly inactivity fee of $2.95 after 12 consecutive months of inactivity."  I got this card in December 2010 so I could very easily forget about it and lose my balance to late fees.  Essentially, my money expires with the passage of time and we all know that time flies.  Where the gift card company really makes their money is on cards that have been lost ($5 replacement fee, if you even know how to go about getting it replaced) or cards that have a balance so low you can't even buy anything with it.

Think about it.  You get a $25 gift card for you birthday.  You rush off to buy a couple of DVDs and about $20 and some tax later your are left with a balance of less than $3.  So now you have a <$3 gift card.  What could you possibly buy with that?  Nothing, so you let it sit in your wallet and the clock starts ticking on your money.  Eventually you forget all about your dinky gift card balance and before you know it a year has passed and dormancy fees eat up your balance, if it hasn't expired all together.  Sad panda you are.

Here's how you avoid this problem.  After you spend the bulk of your cash on your gift card, go online or call the number on the back of your card to get your balance.  Then put a piece of scotch tape on the front of your card and write the exact balance on it.  Next time you go shopping, to say Wal-Mart, tell the cashier you would like to use up this gift card, which has exactly $x on it.  That way you get to spend your money rather than having it expire.  You win, remember someone already paid for this gift card so you shouldn't let the gift card company get your money for free.

And to avoid being scammed or maybe just making a mistake, always keep your empty gift card after you use it.  Don't let the cashier throw it away for you in the event it still has money on it.  Take the card home and check the balance to be sure it says $0.00 before you throw it away.  Everyone makes mistakes (including you!) and a crooked cashier could easily enter an amount less than what they told you and then tell you the balance is zero.  Anyone who doesn't immediately look at their receipt could be scammed.  We don't want that to happen because we like our money.

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