Zero Balance: What to Do If You Encounter Gift Card Problems


We support reforms to the financial marketplace that protect consumers from unscrupulous banks and lenders.

By Consumers Union on Friday, January 2nd, 2015

gift cardsAfter the holidays, people everywhere are eager to spend the gift cards they received from friends and family. However, some consumers may get a nasty shock in the checkout lane: the gift cards they expected to be loaded with cash turn out to be empty.

Empty gift cards were a big problem in 2014; thankfully, we haven’t heard yet from consumers who’ve experienced zero balance this year, but just in case, here’s what you need to know if you go to use a gift card and find that it has zero balance:

  • First, check the gift card’s balance and account history online. The gift card should have a website or phone number where you can check the gift card balance. If you do so and find that the balance listed is accurate, try using the card again, after you register the card. (Most gift card websites let you do this, and you want to because that usually ensures greater protections for your card’s balance.) Your past problem redeeming the card may have been a one-time point of sale system bug;
  • If you still have a problem, contact the retailer where the card was purchased for help. Bring the purchase receipt with you if you have it. (We urge everyone who gives a gift card to include the receipt.) The retailer should help you, but if you can’t get the problem solved, you will want to go to the next step;
  • File a complaint with the CFPB. You can complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,  by clicking (yes, the URL says credit card, but the CFPB lumps gift cards with prepaid and credit cards, so this is the correct link);
  • Complain to the FTC or OCC. For store gift cards, complain to the Federal Trade Commission via the website  or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. For general purpose gift cards – ones with Visa, American Express, Discover or MasterCard logos – complain to the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) Customer Assistance Group by calling 800-613-6743 or sending an e-mail to:

Remember, gift cards do not have federal law protections against not working , but many retailers will fix problems for consumers who register their gift cards, so be sure to do so. For more on gift cards, see our gift card tips.


Gift card problem? We want to hear about it. Please share your story in the comments.

4 responses to “Zero Balance: What to Do If You Encounter Gift Card Problems”

  1. Rhuck says:

    I appreciate this site. Same as the others – went to use it and zero balance. What a RIP OFF. You would think there would be better protection for consumers and I really want to know where our representatives heads are on this. Are they protecting these companies? These companies are earning ROE on the money that was used to purchase these cards and to add insult to injury, charge a non use fee. Absolutely Unacceptable. I’m going to use the suggestions posted here and make inquiries. It’s not the money – It’s the absolute theft that pisses me off.

  2. Frank H Mckenna says:

    My daughters Visa gift card was declined as it had a zero balance.Apparently it hadn’t been used so a fee was applied against the card until a 0 balance occurred.
    Great way to treat your customers.
    Front of card says :
    Good through 12/18

  3. Derek mccuaig says:

    Bought my wife a $100 Petro Canada gift card from Shoppers Drug Mart at 5709 Hazeldean Rd Kanata When she went to use it there was zero balance on card. Produced SDM with copies of receipts (long form and authorization copy) also the actual gift card itself. We basically Been called
    A thief. In an email from SDM saying the gift card doesn’t not match the activated gift card purchased
    Thanks god for google but this is not the first and probably the last time that gift cards bought from SDM have had this problem with its customers buying gift cards and finding out those cards have no balance. Now the fight is on with Shoppers and Petro with my beautiful wife
    They have no idea what a powerful punch she has.
    Next time I will only purchase gift cards from behind the counter or better yet give cash

  4. Tochukwu Eberechukwu Nnabuko says:

    My gift card is nearly empty with a balance of $2 and I need the money I spent back but I can’t retrieve it.

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