No More Gift Cards for New Jersey

In upcoming months, New Jersey pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores will no longer be able to sell certain gift cards due to a recent addition to the state’s unclaimed property law. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the New Jersey Treasury Department will require third-party gift card sellers to obtain buyers’ ZIP codes so that the state can claim the value of unused gift cards after two years.

In response to the law, gift card providers, including American Express, Blackhawk Network, and InComm, are pulling their gift cards from store shelves and cutting business ties. While American Express will no longer sell American Express gift cards in stores, New Jersey residents can still purchase gift cards directly from the company. On the other hand, Blackhawk Network and InComm are completely ending business with New Jersey with the removal of gift cards from several popular restaurants and stores.

As reported on both companies’ websites, Blackhawk Network and InComm will no longer provide New Jersey stores with a wide variety of gift cards, including those to Barnes & Noble, Chili’s, Home Depot, iTunes, Nordstroms, Sears, Starbucks, AMC Movie Theaters, Macy’s, and Subway, as well as prepaid Visa and MasterCard gift cards.

On one side of the issue, the New Jersey Treasury Department argues that the new law will balance the state’s budget by bringing in approximately six billion dollars each year in unused gift card balances. However, on the other side, gift card providers argue that it will extremely difficult and expensive to comply with the law. Furthermore, Blackhawk Network and InComm representatives mentioned that their gift cards do not have an expiration date.

In addition to gift card providers, the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association is fighting for the reversal of the law and argues that it poses threats against securing consumer privacy.

University students, like most residents throughout New Jersey, are divided on whether the law should be supported or reversed. Angela Scarpa, a senior education major, is unhappy that the law has caused companies to end business in New Jersey.

“Those types of gift cards, especially American Express gift cards, are convenient and just always a good gift to give,” she explained. “When I buy a gift card for someone, I want them to use it whenever they’d like,” Scarpa added, “It’s unfair that the money I spend on a gift could be used somewhere else that I’m completely unaware of.”

Like Scarpa, Michelle Genke, a junior business student, explained that she is confused as to where the money will end up if gift cards aren’t used. “I don’t understand why unused gift cards with ‘expiration dates’ are now the solution to paying state debts,” she said, “it doesn’t make sense to me that it would be the most reasonable option.” Despite her confusion, Genke jokes about how she’ll use gift cards once the law is put into action and added, “I think that when I’m given a gift card, from now on, I’m going to think that I have to spend it right away or else the card balance is going to disappear.”

On the other hand, Ashley Aloi, a senior communication major, doesn’t see the law as the complete end of gift cards. “If the law only applies to third-party sellers, like CVS or something, then people can still go directly to the stores or restaurants and still buy the same gift cards,” she argued and added, “But it will be annoying when you realize that you forgot to get a gift and then those same gift cards won’t be available as conveniently.”

Despite any positive or negative attention the law is getting, New Jersey state officials plan to begin enforcing the law this June. Those who are opposed are working to raise awareness of the negative effects the law will have and are working to circulate petitions for the law’s reversal.

PHOTO COURTESY of Joanna Zietara