When Gift Cards Expire, They Go To … Delaware?

Joanne Butler | Former Staffer, House Ways and Means Committee

Last Christmas, you probably got a few gift cards. Maybe you popped them in the back of your wallet or in your kitchen junk drawer. Important news: gift cards are not immortal! When they expire, they go to … Delaware.

Before that happens, use them for a Father’s Day gift instead.

Why Delaware? If the issuing company is incorporated in Delaware (odds are, it is because of “Delaware loophole“), when a gift card expires, the state of Delaware gets the money. In accounting terms, this flow of the value of expired gift cards to the state’s coffers is called escheats.

Escheats are a very old common-law concept, going back to feudal times. In those days, if a person died without an heir, his/her property escheated to the local lord, or the monarch.

In addition to gift cards, if a person has a bank account and dies without an heir, chances are, the monies in that account will go to Delaware — as many of the nation’s largest banks are incorporated in Delaware.

According to the Delaware News Journal, last year the state took in about $550 million in “escheats.” As Delaware is small (one U.S. Congressman, two Senators, three counties), $550 million is a tremendous amount of money coming into the state’s revenues.

Is this fair? In the case of bank accounts, the state’s escheats officer does try to track down heirs. As for gift cards, firms could put longer expiration dates on them. They also should make that useful information easier to read by using a larger typeface.

Meanwhile with Father’s Day coming up, now is a good time to sift through your wallet, junk drawer, or wherever gift cards go to rest in your home and use them. You’ll save some money on your outlay for a gift, and, trust me, Delaware will do just fine without your gift card.

Joanne Butler, graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, was a professional staff member (R) at the House Ways and Means Committee and served in President George W. Bush’s administration.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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