Visa Gift Cards — The Gift That Keeps On Taking

That’s gotta hurt.

Visa’s tag line for its gift cards is ‘A smart gift anyone can appreciate.’ Sure it’s smart — for Visa. Not so smart for you or me. A simile best sums up my experience: the eagle in the picture is to Prometheus as Visa is to your gift card balance. As I will explain, Visa’s awful terms and conditions seek to siphon off the value of its gift cards.

Look at the picture of the Visa gift card below, issued by MyPrepaidCenter.com and MetaBank. Reasonable people might think that the card is worth $50, and that the funds on it ‘do not expire’. Because, you know, it says right there ‘FUNDS DO NOT EXPIRE’. So thought my wife when she received the card (and three others like it) as a generous gift from her company last May.

Funds Do Not Expire. Ha ha very funny.

After a brief glance, she put the cards away in a drawer, where they remained for months, glued to the folded sheets of paper they originally came with. A few weeks ago she peeled one off and tried to make a purchase with it...and realized they had lost almost half their value, even though she had not spent a cent.

It turns out that with the card stuck to the piece of paper, we could not read the fine print on the back which said (boring parts edited out):

Subject to applicable law, beginning 1 month after the valid thru date printed on the card front, A MAINTENANCE FEE OF $3.95/mo will be assessed as long as funds remain.

In our case, the ‘valid thru’ date of 07/2015 meant that we had to spend the money within a month of receiving it. After this, the ungodly combination of Visa, MyPrepaidCenter.com, and Metabank chopped off $3.95 for ‘maintenence’ fees each month. Who seriously believes that maintaining the account, which amounts to a keeping a few numbers in a database somewhere, costs 4 bucks a month?

In any case, no matter how you look at it, the ‘FUNDS DO NOT EXPIRE’ promise on the card was misleading. By any reasonable definition, the funds were expiring faster than senior citizens in a heat wave.

Call Center To The Rescue? {Spoiler Alert: No.}

I called the number on the back of the card to complain. After my second call (the first one ended with a promised call from a manager, who never followed up), I was told that they were unable to give us our money back, citing a ‘cardholder agreement’ that we were apparently party to, even though we haven’t yet spent a single cent or signed any contract. I asked to escalate to the head office, and to do so, the nice CS rep had to cancel the cards, leaving my wife with $0 of her $200 gift. Surely not what my wife’s company had in mind when giving this gift to her.

Maybe Visa will refund all of the money, maybe not. Meanwhile, the cards are worth nothing. All of this paints Visa, a brand with $11.8B in goodwill on its balance sheet, in a very cynical light.

We Should Expect Better.

In the bigger picture, the existence of these types of deceptive, anti-consumer ‘gift’ cards is evidence that broken legislation is not doing enough to protect consumers. This is an example of why many feel that large companies are lining their pockets at the expense of the average consumer, and that the politicians crafting laws are not looking out for the interests of the middle class.

I’m speaking out against this because I’d like consumers to hit Visa where it hurts — don’t buy their stupid gift cards. Instead, give the people you care about some cash or a check. At least then, the only ‘eagle’ picking away at your liver, uh I mean gift money, is inflation.