WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve on Tuesday issued new rules to protect Americans from getting 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 surprised by fees that eat into the value of the cards, as well as restrictions on how long they’ll be good for.

Under the rules, consumers must have at least five years to use the 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 no more than one fee is charged a month.

Congress ordered the Fed to issue the new protections under a law enacted last year. The rules take effect Aug. 22.

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.

The Fed received more than 230 letters weighing in on its proposal, first unveiled in November.

Many individual consumers urged the Fed to ban all fees and to eliminate expiration dates so that people didn’t lose any value on the cards.


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