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Gift cards and bankruptcy: Things to consider

Luxury retailer Barneys, which recently filed for bankruptcy, outraged loyal customers when it declared that after November 7, store gift cards could no longer be used. One of them, who was now out $100, griped to the New York Post, “This is theft.”

It’s a situation that has made New York shoppers justifiably nervous. Gift cards are hugely popular as holiday gifts: according to the National Retail Federation, they topped most wish lists in 2018. However, if a business files for bankruptcy, then that $200 gift card you bought for a family member or friend (or vice-versa) can suddenly be worthless.

If you received a gift card last year and have yet to use it, then the last thing you want to hear is that the retailer is in trouble. But if it is, here are some steps you can take to ensure that you don’t lose out completely.

Use your gift card now

If you’ve heard rumors that your favorite clothing store is struggling financially, then don’t wait for confirmation. Refrain from buying store gift cards as presents this year and use yours to buy something for yourself or a holiday present for someone else. If you wait until the New Year, then you may have missed your window of opportunity.

Ask about deadlines for gift card use

If the store is already in the process of liquidating or reorganizing, then there is likely a deadline for gift card redemptions. While some, like Barneys, will advise customers (sometimes at the last minute) on their website or social media accounts, others don’t. Call or visit the store and ask.

What if your gift card is now unusable?

Maybe you missed the deadline for redeeming your gift card. Bankrupt retailers also have to seek court permission to redeem gift cards, so some don’t bother and just leave their customers empty-handed.

If there was a significant balance on the card, then you might be able to file a claim with the bankruptcy court. Be warned: compared to other creditors, gift card holders are not high-priority, but there’s still a chance that you could get money back. In 2008, Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy protection but announced three years later that gift card holders would be reimbursed.  If you’ve already filed a claim with the bankruptcy court, then your information is on the record. While gift cards are always a definite win for the pickier people on your gift list, store bankruptcy can have an impact on when they can be used. When you’re doing your shopping this year, go with retailers that are packed with shoppers, which is a sign of prosperity. They’re less likely to sell you a gift card that will have no value a year from now.

Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY personal bankruptcy attorney. If you are considering filing for bankruptcy to eliminate your debts, then set up a free in-person initial consultation with Mr. Lutzky. Call 718-329-9500 for appointments.

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