Guest post by Madison Tanner, Esq.
It is the most wonderful time of the year! Bonus season. Jokes aside, it is the season of giving. We have all been through so much this year: a pandemic, a contentious election, and virtual meetings replacing human interaction. The challenges we faced in 2020 resulted in the closure of local restaurants, reduced hours at small boutiques, and limitation of leisurely activities outside of the home. Many of us (particularly the last minute shoppers like me) are fleeing to our favorite small businesses to purchase a gift certificate for a loved one while simultaneously supporting the “shop small” movement. Small businesses graciously save the (holi)day with their festive gift certificates and I-O-U services. Thanks to these establishments, we can purchase an experience for our loved ones ranging from a facial or massage to a meal at their ideal lunch spot. The begging question is: how long does one have to use that gift certificate? The answer: in Florida, it should not expire.
Florida Statute § 501.95 governs on the issue. The statute, beloved by the consumer and despised by the small business owner, was first enacted in 2007 in an effort to regulate trade and protect consumers. Pursuant to § 501.95(2)(a):
“a gift certificate purchased or credit memo issued in this state may not have an expiration date, expiration period, or any type of postsale charge or fee imposed on the gift certificate or credit memo….”
Exceptions to the Rule
Like most statutes, there are loopholes to this general rule, but only in limited circumstances. According to the statute, a gift certificate may have an expiration date of not less than three years if it is provided as a charitable contribution, or not less than one year if it is provided as a benefit pursuant to an employee-incentive program and the expiration date is prominently disclosed in writing to the consumer at the time it is provided.
Additionally, a gift certificate may have an expiration date if it is provided to the recipient as a part of a loyalty or promotional program when the recipient does not pay a separate charge for the certificate or if its provided in conjunction with a convention, conference, vacation, or event with a limited duration so long as the majority of the value paid for the certificate is attributable to said convention, conference, vacation, or event. F.S. §501.95(2)(a) does not apply to a gift certificate or credit memo sold or issued by a financial institution, like a bank. But, virtually all other small businesses are bound by the law.
If a small business does issue gift certificates with expiration dates, they are in violation of the statute and face potential penalties enumerated in Florida Statute § 501.142(3), (4), and (5) which may include the imposition of a fine not to exceed $100 for each violation or direction to cease and desist imposing an expiration date.
If you are a small business owner, be mindful of F.S. § 501.95 and its implications and remove those expiration dates (unless an exception applies). When offering gift certificates, consider the possibility of the recipient shoving it in their wallet only to find it and request redemption months, or even years, after it is issued. If you are the consumer or recipient of a gift certificate this season, consider redeeming it soon after receipt to continue supporting our beloved small businesses!
Those with questions may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 239-344-1372.