Store gift cards will hold their value longer

(NBC) - If a gift card is on your shopping list, you may want to wait until Sunday to buy one when new federal rules go into effect that help make the gift cards more consumer-friendly.

"Under the new rules, gift cards have to last at least five years before they expire," explained Consumer Union's David Butler. "And they can't charge you service fees or inactivity fees for at least a full year after the gift card is purchased."

The federal rules apply to store cards, along with Mastercard-, Visa-, American Express- and Discover-branded gift cards.

In addition to holding their value for five years, if you reload your card, the five-year limit starts on the new amount.

Companies can still charge fees for some services, including replacing lost or stolen cards, but those fees must be disclosed on card packaging.

The Consumer Union says it's received thousands of complaints in recent years about gift and credit card practices, which led the organization to fight for reform.

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