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Gift cards by national banks not subject to isle restrictions

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Question: I have a Chelsea premium outlets Simon Visa gift card. I was surprised when $2.50 was deducted for administrative fees beginning with the 13th month. I thought it was illegal in Hawaii for merchants to charge fees within two years. I was told that the fee is clearly stated on the card, which it does. But is this legal?

Answer: If the card was issued by a national bank, which appears to be the case, it is not affected by the Hawaii law, said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

"Any state’s ability to regulate gift cards that are issued by a national bank is extremely limited," he explained.

There is no federal law prohibiting activation or dormancy fees for gift cards.

However, on Aug. 22, new gift card regulations that are part of the Credit Card Act of 2009 go into effect, setting restrictions.

The two main requirements of the new act are that gift cards, whether issued by banks or retailers, have to be good for at least five years from the date of purchase or from the last date any money was reloaded onto the card, and that no fees can be charged during the first 12 months from the time of purchase.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s gift card law changed on July 1, allowing merchants to charge a one-time activation fee equal to 10 percent of the face value of the gift card or a maximum of $5. That would be $2 on a $20 card or a maximum of $5 for any card valued at $50 or more.

Previously, such fees were not allowed. Still prohibited are dormancy fees for inactivity on a card.

The new Hawaii law also now requires gift cards to be valid for five years, instead of two, in line with the federal law.

"To avoid any hassle or misunderstanding, if you use a gift card as soon as possible, then you don’t have to worry about losing it, you don’t have to worry about dormancy fees," Levins said.

Also, "If you find that an upfront fee is obnoxious, you can express your displeasure to the merchant or just go to another merchant that doesn’t charge those kinds of fees."

Question: Waikiki Beach features a small waterfall and series of cascading pools, behind a sculpture on Kalakaua Avenue, opposite Kapahulu Avenue. Six months ago these pools were lovely and blue, with white sand in the bottom. Recently the water has been a dark brown, and the pool is half covered with revolting brown scum. Passers-by look at it with disbelief. What is going on? This is an eyesore and possibly even a health hazard.

Answer: The water and pools both on Waikiki Beach and at the intersection of Ala Wai Boulevard and Kapahulu Avenue should be back to normal by the end of this week, said Lester Chang, director of the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

Maintenance workers were short on the chlorine chemical usually used, so used a substitute that obviously didn’t do the job.

"We will do the proper maintenance," and both areas should be "much improved" this week, Chang said.

Question: I just received from the city clerk the application for a permanent absentee voter ballot. Do I still need to apply for a ballot every election year?

Answer: No, you do not.

As long as you are a registered voter, keep your address updated and vote in each election, you will be able to vote by mail each election without having to reapply each year.

See or call 768-3800 for more information.

Write to "Kokua Line" at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or e-mail


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