If you received gift cards for Christmas, now is the time to use them. You may be tempted to squirrel them away in a drawer, but that would be a big mistake.

The two most common kinds of gift cards are retail gift cards and bank gift cards. Retail gift cards are only redeemable at a specific retailer or restaurant. Bank gift cards such as American Express gift cards or MasterCard or Visa can be used at any location that accepts that card.

Why should you use your gift cards as soon as possible? Michael W. Frerichs, Illinois State Treasurer, warns that the value of the card may be eaten up by fees if the card is not used promptly. In his January 2018 E-NEWSLETTER at, he explains, “Remember that while money on a typical bank gift card cannot expire for at least five years, depending on the circumstances, inactivity fees could begin in as little as 12 months. Therefore, it is possible that inactivity fees could consume the cash value of a bank gift card before the five-year window has expired.”

“Under Illinois’ Consumer Fraud Act, most gift cards sold in Illinois that are usable only at a specific retailer or restaurant are not allowed to incur inactivity fees.”

There are other reasons for using your gift card now. For example, if a retailer or restaurant closes, you will not be able to redeem your gift card. Imagine your disappointment if you have saved a $50.00 gift card which is now worthless!

Remember that your gift cards are the same as cash. If your gift card is lost or stolen, report it to the police. Then contact the issuer of the card (e.g., Mastercard) to determine if it is possible to get a replacement card and what the cost would be to get it.

If you are sitting around with a stack of unused gift cards, you are not alone. An article entitled “$1 billion in gift cards go unused every year-here’s how to avoid that” published January 1, 2018 on, stated, “Consumers spent more than $130 billion on gift cards per year, according to advisory company CEB Tower Group, but roughly $1 billion went unspent.”

What can you do with this stack of unused gift cards? Here’s an obvious solution. Use them for online shopping. Almost every major retailer has a website with online shopping. You could buy a new outfit or LED light bulbs. You could even order a pizza and have it delivered to your house!

Whatever you do, use your gift cards now.

— by Karen Centowski