I purchased a $25 Visa gift card a few years ago, and was surprised to find this morning that it had 0 balance. On questioning I learned that 1) they don't track activity older than one year and 2) the card is charged a $2 per month inactivity fee if it is not used for a period longer than 12 months.

So an unused $25 gift card will be empty in just over two years, and if you wait a year longer than that to check it, you won't be able to discover why.

Is there anything I can do that would count as activity that won't use the balance?

Are there any other options to avoid inactivity fees in the future?

Background and purpose of this gift card:

I was robbed at gunpoint many years ago, and there was a visa gift card in my wallet. They didn't even attempt to use the other cards, but I suppose they figured the gift card wasn't traceable. It was, and they were caught and prosecuted solely on the evidence of the gift card transactions. So now I carry one in my wallet as a security measure. I didn't read the fine print, however, so now it's empty. Looks like I'll have to use it yearly, which isn't a big deal, but I was hoping I could find a solution that doesn't require maintenance, or maintenance that doesn't deplete the card.

  • Welcome to Money.SE. The question is legitimate, but an answer can easily become invalid as the issuers change their terms all the time. This question is likely to be closed due to that and the off-topic nature of recommending specific companies or products. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 11:56
  • I've removed the product recommendation portion of the question. Hopefully the "any other options" might yield clues on how to find products with no inactivity fees.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


The card issuers have expenses, marketing, the piece of plastic, the profit to the store, etc. The cards I've seen typically have a $4.95 fee to purchase. If I buy a $500 card, that's still a 1% cost, but for example, before I trusted my daughter with a real credit card, able to tap my own limit, these cards were a good way to give her access to funds when she was away from home for weeks at a time.

The above card I was referring to had no monthly fee, but if I were to buy the minimum $25 value, $4.95 is a 20% expense, pretty crazy.

You are not likely to find a combination of no purchase cost and no monthly fee. The real question back to you is what do you need such a card for? If it's some occasional need to use a card, I'd buy the card you bought, but carefully track the time passing. In month 11, just spend it. A tank of gas, a trip to the supermarket, done.

OP has added comments and a question edit. I'll add - The card issuer is independent from the company transacting the sale. e.g. I buy a $4.95 cost Visa gift card, but use my Mastercard to make the purchase. The seller, say, CVS needs to at least break even on the sale, which probably costs 2% in transaction costs. You are right, often a question shouldn't require such detailed explanation, but, absent your intent, the correct answer might be "stay away from such cards." Here, you've generated a purpose, and reason for your dilemma.

  • I don't mind paying the up-front fee if it eliminates the inactivity fee, by the way. Also keep in mind that they will make between 1% and 3% per transaction from the retailer anyway, so it's not like they're losing money. As far as I can tell the inactivity fees are simply a way to legally bring the account to 0 balance, so they don't have to find and send a check to someone upon card expiration. They can't legally keep the money otherwise in some states.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 12:22
  • 2
    Well, I was going to write an answer detailing how prepaid gift cards don't earn interest, and have the potential to cost money (maintenance fees), so the first order of business for my wife and I is to use it before we use any other credit/debit card, but you have provided a VERY valid use case (I'd argue that you should add it to the question as an important "Oh, by the way, this is why I have it" section)
    – Noah
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:17
  • @Noah Good point. I thought the purpose of the gift card wouldn't influence the answers, but I see how it might, and so have added that information to the question.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 16:32

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