WASHINGTON - The Federal Reserve issued new rules Tuesday to protect Americans from being stung by unexpected fees or restrictions on gift cards.
Gift cards have grown in popularity -- with more than 95 percent of Americans having received or purchased them, the Fed said.
And as usage has gone up, so have complaints from people taken by surprise by fees that eat into the value of the cards, as well restrictions on how long they'll be honored.
Under the rules, consumers must have at least five years to use gift cards before they expire. The Fed also says service or inactivity fees can be imposed only under certain conditions.
Such fees can be charged if the consumer hasn't used the card for at least a year, if the consumer is given clear disclosures about them, and if fees are limited to one a month.
The rules take effect Aug. 22.
Congress ordered the Fed to issue the new protections under a law enacted last year.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who championed the gift card crackdown in Congress, wants faster implementation of the rules.
"Now that the new rules are finalized, we will work with the Fed to speed up the effective date, rather than keep consumers at risk of being ripped off until next summer," Schumer said. "These new rules will curb the abusive fees and early expiration dates that can drain gift cards of their value before they are ever even used."
The Fed received more than 230 letters weighing in on its proposal, which was unveiled in November.
Many individual consumers urged the Fed to ban all fees and to eliminate expiration dates so that people wouldn't lose any value on the cards.