Maine’s amazingly useful law that lets you turn gift cards into cash

Gift cards may not be the most creative, exciting, or personal present to open up, but consumer studies show those little pieces of plastic are popular. Let’s face it, we’re busy, people are hard to buy for, you still want to show you care – cue the gift card.

According to one new study, gift card spending hit $46 billion last year in the United States. But another study also found as much as $1 billion a year may go unspent. How many gift cards do you have tucked away in your wallet, purse, or junk drawer in the kitchen? They can be easy to forget about.

First, it’s important to know Maine law says gift cards don’t expire. You also can’t legally be charged a maintenance fee or service charge on your gift cards (except upon purchase or when recharged).

But what do you do when you use your gift card and then have a small remaining balance left? You could…

  1. Let the balance sit there
  2. Buy something else
  3. OR – in Maine, you could get cash back

Maine is one of a handful of states that requires stores to give you cash back when the balance on your gift card gets low. In Maine, that magic cutoff is less than $5.

Here’s the section of Maine law (updated October 1, 2019):

If a gift obligation is redeemed in person and a balance of less than $5 remains following redemption, at the consumer’s request the merchant redeeming the gift obligation must refund the balance in cash to the consumer.

Of course, there are exceptions. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, cards with an initial value of $5 or less, promotional cards, cards given for merchandise returned without a receipt, or pre-funded bankcards.

Another obstacle to getting your cash back, stores may not know about this requirement.

I recently picked up an $18 book. I had a $20 Christmas gift card. With tax, my purchase was $18.99. I asked for the remaining $1.01 to be returned in cash.

The cashier told me store policy – they could only do that for balances less than $1. After talking with a manager (mostly to see what would happen), I got the $1.01. She apologized, told me they were not familiar with this state law, and wrapped up with a “good to know.”

If you didn’t know, hope you find this info helpful, too! Happy gift card spending.

Jon Chrisos

About Jon Chrisos

Award-winning journalist Jon Chrisos is the investigative and consumer reporter at CBS 13 in Portland. He also anchors weeknights at 5:30. Chrisos is “On Your Side” investigating the stories that make a difference in your life. He’s passionate about helping those who’ve been wronged, exposing government waste, asking tough questions, and uncovering the truth.