Service of Billions in Limbo–Not in Recipient’s Pockets

February 4th, 2021

Categories: Bank, Banking, Death, Estate, Gift Cards, Laws, Lawyers

Are you accessing all the money due you? Banks and businesses have pots of money left behind.

We’ve heard of gift cards with unused balances that reside in wallets, bureau and desk drawers. “At any given time, 10% to 19% of gift card balances remain unredeemed — and around 6% of gift cards are never even used,” wrote Zachary Crockett in In 2019, Americans bought some $171 billion worth.

And what about the cards themselves? Crockett reported that 70 percent of gift cards are redeemed within six months but after a year, almost 80 percent aren’t. That’s a tidy sum for the issuers in addition to the fees many charge while they also make money on the interest.

It’s not just gift card balances that are unclaimed. Without proper documentation or an estate bank account, checks made out to an estate cannot be deposited in a widow, widower or other beneficiary’s retail bank account even if they are named executor in the will. For some, the cost to pay a lawyer to acquire documentation may represent more than the lost money. A friend said that each of several checks for interest on an investment made to her husband’s estate were for less than $100. The issuer of the checks kept the money because two banks in her town refused to cash or deposit them.  Long after the checks had expired someone said she could have helped her retrieve the money.

Another friend got a check from a bank made out to his wife’s estate for well over $3,000. It had a life of 180 days. The issuer said that no other check could be cut after that and it could not write a check to his name. Predicament was solved because a proactive customer service person figured out a solution. Otherwise, if the lawyer hadn’t open an estate account in time this money would have remained in bank coffers unclaimed.

This must happen to the bereaved countless times a year.

Do you use gift cards immediately? If you’ve not spent the entire amount, do you remember to use the remainder? Do you prefer gift cards from a business or ones  like American Express? Have you forfeited money because you weren’t able to cash a check in time for any reason?


6 Responses to “Service of Billions in Limbo–Not in Recipient’s Pockets”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Wow. I always had the suspicion that gift cards were partially intended not to be used fully and let the leftovers wallow in card issuers accounts… Either the big banks or the big box stores…

    Hope I’m wrong but even the government has been issuing stimulus checks in the form of a debit cards! Too easy not to get it all out and leave some for the givers! Hope my answer was not confusing.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You were clear. In days of yore, before credit cards were prevalent, travelers checks served the same purpose for banks and issuers. Most charged a fee for the checks, had the money collect interest during the time the checks were unspent and often, after a trip, the remaining checks hung around for the next trip prolonging the bank’s use of the money.

  3. David Reich Said:

    I have a couple of gift cards that might have a few dollars left on them…amounts too small to make a difference on a purchase. But yes, it’s money that the banks get to hold onto.

  4. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: I’m not a fan of giving them (too impersonal) or receiving them. I’m sitting with an AMC card I received last February I suspect/fear I’ll never be able to use. But when I do get one as a gift, I’ll use it fully eventually if not in one purchase. I just keep it in my wallet for next time I’m at that store with the receipt noting balance.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I bet you will use the AMC card. We’ll figure out how to go to the movies safely and this company will survive–at least I hope so.

    I have always loved going to the movies and meeting friends there is a treat as I like to talk about what I’ve just seen.

    I think a gift card to a movie chain for a person who loves them is thoughtful. And with the cost of postage on the moon, mailing the perfect gift, even if it’s light and unbreakable and can fit in a book-sized padded envelope, can be shockingly pricey.

    I’m on the fence about liking them. As I can’t shop in stores which I love, given the pandemic, a gift card is an option–though I’ve done OK on the Internet so far. I am concerned about forgetting that a card with a few dollars left is in my wallet. The solution for me is to spend the whole amount one time!

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    Gift cards are great if one remembers to use them, and if they’re accepted by most stores. Personally, I prefer to give and receive gifts which arrive in bags or boxes, but that doesn’t mean I have the slightest intention to turn away any form of money!

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