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Note: The Gift That Keeps on Taking: How Federal Banking Laws Prevent States from Enforcing Gift Card Laws

By Y. Angela Lam. Full text here.

Every year, consumers purchase about $80 billion in gift cards, only to lose $8 billion loaded on those cards because of expiration dates and service fees that deplete the value of the cards. State legislators have tried to protect consumers by passing laws that would prohibit or limit the use of gift-card expiration dates and service fees, but the National Bank Act has undercut such laws. The federal law allows national banks to charge fees and impose expiration dates on the cards they issue. Because the National Bank Act is a federal law that preempts any conflicting state laws, state gift-card laws have no effect on gift cards issued by national banks. As a result, federal preemption allows gift-card issuers to circumvent state consumer protection laws by issuing their gift cards in conjunction with a national bank. Two recent cases heard in the circuit courts have, this Note argues, incorrectly allowed this consumer protection loophole created through the National Bank Act and the actions of some enterprising gift-card issuers because neither court considered congressional intent or that state gift-card laws are laws of general applicability to be applied to national banks. This Note proposes that Congress remove the loophole by passing a version of the Fair Gift Card Act that ensures consumers receive the full value of the gift cards they own.