Almost every restaurant has a gift certificate or gift card promotion. Unwary restaurants may not be aware of the many state and federal laws severely limiting the ability to place reasonable restrictions on those gift cards. Violators may face fines and penalties or worse, lawsuits from gift card purchasers or recipients!

The federal law passed in 2009 prohibits expiration dates on gift cards unless the expiration is at least five years from the date of issuance or when funds were loaded onto the card, whichever is earlier. Even then, the terms of the expiration must be clearly and conspicuously stated, so no fine print.

Many states have passed even more restrictive laws, including Oregon. Under Oregon law new gift cards issued after January 1, 2011 are severely restricted. No more redemption deadlines; they have to never expire unless they fall within one of the exceptions below.
 
The new laws don’t apply to certain donated items. So if you donate gift cards, you may be able to place restrictions on the card. Otherwise, no expiration dates, no declining face value over time, and no fees such as maintenance, service or inactivity fees. You also must allow redemption for cash if the value falls below $5 and at least one purchase has been made.
 
If you do desire to sell a gift card with an expiration date, there is a tough set of rules under Oregon law. The sale must be at a cost below the face value, it is valid for at least 30 days after sale, and states in at least 10 point type the words “EXPIRES ON” or “EXPIRATION DATE _____” with the date specified.
 
If you have restaurants or stores in other states, be sure to check similar state laws elsewhere as they vary widely.