Gift cards have become a popular and convenient gift alternative. New rules from the Federal Reserve Board will help to ensure that consumers who give or receive gift cards are not surprised by expired cards and are protected from certain fees that reduce their value.

The new rules take effect in August 2010 and apply to store gift cards, as well as gift cards with a MasterCard, Visa, American Express or Discover brand logo. The Federal Reserve Board recently unveiled a new online publication to help consumers better understand how to protect themselves against harmful gift card practices.

Among other things, the law puts new limits on expiration dates and certain fees, such as usage fees and inactivity fees. It also requires that all fees must be clearly disclosed on the gift card or its packaging.

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