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$200 in unused prepaid cards now worth $136



Updated: July 29, 2012 9:12PM

Dear Fixer: Last December and March, I purchased four $50 Visa prepaid cards through a fund-raiser for my kid’s preschool. I purchased enough for a whole year’s worth of birthdays and holidays.

When I gave one as a gift to my nephew in June, I was embarrassed to find out that the cards were only good for six months. It had expired on May 31.

To make a long story short, preschool was closed for the summer. When it reopened, I took the cards in, thinking they could be replaced.

They were replaced — minus a fee of $6.95 and $3 per month, per card. They took $15.95 per card, leaving my $200 worth of Visa cards worth $136.20.

Had I known they would expire, I certainly would not have purchased a year’s worth!

I received my replacements the last week of September. I sent my son to the grocery store on Oct. 13 to use them. They are now only worth $31.05 per card (down from the original $50).

The only department I could talk to was in charge of lost and stolen cards. I spoke to a supervisor. He took all my info and was going to get back to me in 24 hours. He said he thought this was ridiculous and was going to try to get all the fees reimbursed.

I haven’t heard from him. Needless to say, I am just sick at losing all this money, just because I was trying to be helpful to our school. I’m hoping you can help me out.

Diane Whyte, Aurora

Dear Diane: The Fixer got right to work on this one, fearing that with every minute that passed, more money was slipping off your cards, never to return!

These Visa cards, it turns out, were issued by MetaBank, which enforces those expensive terms of use. Here in Illinois, we’ve been lucky to have a gift card protection law on the books for several years, making it illegal for gift cards to expire before five years or amass fees for inactivity (though credit card-branded cards are not covered by our state law). The federal CARD Act of 2009 does offer some protection, even for credit card gift cards, though the issuer can still deduct monthly fees. The Card Act does not cover reloadable prepaid cards or cards that are given as part of a promotion.

Considering all the fees involved with the cards you purchased, The Fixer suggests choosing a gift card for a specific retailer next time (provided, of course, it is a healthy store not about to enter bankruptcy). Or forgetting about etiquette and just giving cash.

But back to your problem. At the point you wrote to us, you had all eight cards in your possession — the original four expired cards (your nephew had given the worthless one back to you) and the four replacements, which had plummeted in value to $31.05. We went to MetaBank and pretty much threw ourselves at their mercy, asking whether there was anything they could do.

It took a little while, but in the end, they agreed to restore the value, meaning you now have four $50 cards, just as you thought you did in the beginning. But rather than wait to use them for relatives’ birthdays and holidays, you said you’re going to spend them ASAP on groceries — before they drop in value again.

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