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Missouri residents cash in on unused gift cards

Gift cards on display.

In Missouri, it's pretty easy to see if the state is holding onto gift card money you may have forgotten. My friend Jill Miller types her name into the state's website ShowMeMoney.com. This is the Show Me State, after all.

"Sure enough there's my name with my old address," says Miller.

Jill has at least $30 waiting to be claimed. She's given several gift cards to friends over the years and as she stares at the amount she's owed, she admits she's been given a few gift certificates that she can't quite locate.

"I guess it wouldn't be too surprising that there would be something that didn't catch up with me, although I don't know what it would be," says Miller.

So far this year Missouri has returned more than $100,000 from expired gift cards and certificates and state Treasurer Clint Zweifel says his office has another $6 million to give back.

"It's their money.  It's not the state's money; it's not the retailer's money. By law, this is their money and we have a moral responsibility to return it," says Zweifel.

Missouri is among at least 25 states that require retailers to turn over money from unused gift cards and certificates. Most retailers readily comply since unused gift cards count as a liability on their books. But states get a benefit too while they look for the owner -- they can use the money. It's like a zero percent interest loan.

"I think more and more states are looking for more revenue, so they'll grab whatever they can and unclaimed gift cards is just one of those ways," says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub, a clearinghouse for credit and gift cards.

Papadimitriou says estimates gift card sales this year will total $110 billion. Of that, about 2 percent will go unredeemed.

"There is billions of dollars literally we're talking here, and if a state can get its hands an interest free loan, I don't think any state governor, especially with this economy, will not go for it," says Papadimitriou.

But back in Missouri, Treasurer Zweifel says a big part of his job is educating people so that they never have to make a claim for their own money.

"Use that card and use it sooner if possible, but also if you plan on holding onto that cards for a while before using it simply make a copy of it and put it in a safety deposit box or a safe place in your home so you have a back-up copy and ultimately you have proof that that was your card," says Zweifel.

As for my friend Jill, she won't be able to find out where exactly her $30 came from -- unless she asks the state once she gets her refund check.

"Maybe it will always be a mystery, but that's OK.  Money is money," she says.

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