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Cashing Out Gift Cards in California

Cashing Out Gift Cards in California

I was on a road trip recently through the Central Valley of California and stopped in at a Jack In the Box. I forgot where I was heading, but I’m fairly certain it was early morning because I remember ordering a most excellent breakfast burrito along with an absolutely terrible cup of coffee.

Burritos and coffee aside, though, I cam across this sign while waiting for my order. Because I’m me, I snapped a photo of it to aid in discussing it with all of you. The California law the sign is citing to is the CA Civil Code and it’s specifically section 1749.5(b)(2) which states that, as of January 1, 2008 ” Notwithstanding paragraph (1), any gift certificate with a cash value of less than ten dollars ($10) is redeemable in cash for its cash value.”  

Paragraph (1) of CA Civil Code section 1749.5(b) further states that ”
Any gift certificate sold after January 1, 1997, is redeemable in cash for its cash value, or subject to replacement with a new gift certificate at no cost to the purchaser or holder.

CA Civil Code section 1749.45(a) defines “gift certificate” to include gift cards as, I believe, most people would normally interpret the term (i.e. a card issued by and usable at a single merchant or retailer). However, section 1749.45(a)‘s definition of “gift certificate” excludes those gift cards “usable with multiple sellers of goods or services” provided that any applicable expiration date is printed on the card. I rarely use gift cards so these multiple seller cards didn’t ring a bell. Sure enough, though, the very next time I was at the grocery store, what do I see but this:

Section 1749.5 also goes over the rules regarding service fees and expiration dates for gift cards in California so take a look at those if your question concerns those instead of the rules on cashing gift cards out.

As always, this post is meant to address a single limited legal question relating to something the average person encounters in day-to-day life. This post is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion on the topic of cashing out gift cards in California. For instance, there are certain categories of gift cards that can’t be cashed out for their face value (see CA Civil Code section 1749.5(d)). If you do have a more involved question that this post or the resources linked in it cannot address, please do find a lawyer in your area and discuss your situation with them.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

7 Comments

  1. I’m currently at a Starbucks in Hollywood, CA on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. I have a gift card with the remaining balance of $10 and I requested the cash back instead of the card. They told me that at this location the policy is no one is allowed to get cash back. I explained to them and showed them the law on this matter and all they could say was they do not care. I would love a lawsuit against this establishment.

    Reply
    • Less than 10…

      Reply
    • I was told that Starbucks doesn’t do that. I had showed them the civil code. They didn’t care. I was told the law changed 6 months ago

      Reply
    • @Darek Considering the law says UNDER $10, I think that immediately disqualified you and you have no grounds for a lawsuit.

      Reply
  2. Starbucks in an effort to STILL inconvenience the customer, and moreso attempt to save money in the long run by not redeeming remaining balances, and/or product, that this is yet another category they can make money from. Their explanation is that you can ask for a “check” to be sent to you (I’m sure 4-6 weeks) hoping you’ll either just forget about it, or….forget about it!

    Reply
  3. I’ve been trying to cash out several cards I’ve been given but they tell me they will not give cash back in stores anymore so I’m just sitting on a bunch of Starbucks cards I can’t cash out. Was told by a Teresa and Antonio over the phone they have never given cash back for customers

    Reply
  4. Does this law apply to prepaid transit passes as well? I ride the ACE train and 3 of my passes expired because I purchased the electronic version of the 20-ride ticket. The passes expired only about 3 months from the time I purchased them. If I were to purchase the paper version of the 20-ride pass, no expiration applies. Is it legal for them to impose an expiration date on a transit pass that I paid for, especially when the same restrictions do not apply to the paper version of the same pass? I don’t know which regulatory agency would look into this, but would love some insight.

    Reply

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