What do you do when the company from which you received a gift card goes into bankruptcy? Signature Days Gift Cards Worthless Suddenly your prized gift (and money spent by someone) becomes literally just a piece of worthless plastic. That is exactly what just happened to me and I call it the “Santa came in July to steal my Christmas gift away” experience.

This weekend while my original plans for the fourth of July were curtailed to a stomach bug, Kim and I decided we would take some time to look at planning the use of some gift cards she got me for Christmas. Both were for experiences rather than stuff so we thought we better get to booking it on the calendar before the year flies by. I make it a practice to not hang onto gift cards too long lest they expire. This time, however expiration was the least of my worries.

Last December Kim purchased a Signature Days gift card for me after seeing it featured on Good Morning America. She did some research on the Internet and even noted that these gift cards were included in the Oscars Gift Bags the year before. Sounded pretty darn legitimate to her, so she took the plunge and bought one as she saw them in CVS shortly thereafter.

Since we love wine tasting and all kinds of adventures, she thought it would be perfect. I thought it was a cool gift to get at Christmas. So imagine my surprise when I typed in www.signaturedays.com this weekend only to find that the website no longer exists. I thought, well, it is a holiday weekend, maybe they are doing system work. So, I called the phone number on the card. It went to an entirely different company. That got me worked up so I started Googling a bit. Then I found it… the one and only link on the first page of Google results that truly told the story. A post at Yelp.com where people are discussed how they got screwed when Signature Days filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and rendered all the cards worthless. Great… take a miserable day and make it worse as Santa comes and steals my Christmas in July joy away.

With the rash of recent bankruptcies it is important to take stock and use your gift cards. USA Today Reports this week:

Steve & Barry’s, once a growing force in low-price fashion retailing, said Wednesday it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the latest merchant to succumb to a harsh consumer spending climate.

It joins home furnishings chain Linen ‘n Things, catalog retailer Lillian Vernon and specialty retailer Sharper Image in filing for bankruptcy protection this year.

We’re not talking small dollars either. Over $75 million worth of gift cards may become worthless plastic this year.

There is not a whole lot you can do either. The question “Can You Redeen Gift Cards After a Store Goes Bankrupt?” is one with a bleak answer.

A person with a $25 gift certificate joins the long line of creditors seeking repayment and individual cardholders are almost always at the back of the line. “Your chances of getting paid as a consumer are just about nil,” says Riley. “If they could afford to pay that far down the food chain, they wouldn’t have filed for bankruptcy.”

How can you protect yourself? Experts advise consumers to behave as though every company is about to go belly up. “The number one thing is to spend the gift cards as quickly as possible,” says Jennifer Mathe, co-founder and CEO of Leverage Card, a Web site that lets consumers manage and trade gift cards.

Of course I understand the use it soon protection plan. However, what I love about gift cards is that I can WAIT. Isn’t that the point? I was a save for a rainy day kind of person and for me waiting to use my cards 6 months out or so is the whole point because with my birthday and Christmas back to back, I like to spread my joy out. Not to mention gift cards are usually (for me anyway) smaller dollar amounts so I often have to chip in some of my own cash to get what I want. That means, if I rush out to use them right away I tip my own spending budget out of whack. That doesn’t feel like a gift, does it?

For us, well, we’re screwed with Signature Days. We tried calling both CVS and the bank where Kim used her Debit Card for the purchase. Both of course told her basically to get lost. We are just thankful she only put $25 on it. Originally she was thinking bigger figures because of the potential events we wanted to do. Instead she decided to keep the amount small on the card as a token for the holiday and then chip in later when we finalized our decision. Smart girl. I told her the best gift card are the kinds she makes herself — with a piece of colored paper and marker with a big old IOU for something I might want to buy or do. Then I know for sure it won’t expire or go bankrupt.

Anyone else out there recently get creamed in the gift card department with the surge in bankruptcies? Would love to hear your stories in the comments.

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, works with lesbians who are ready to create their lives and businesses the way the want rather than how they were told they “should”. Get the free 12 part eCourse “How to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin” http://www.coaching4lesbians.com and start taking charge of your own success.