By Alanna Autler | CBS 11 I-Team

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Use it or lose it. That’s the warning from a Fort Worth woman who says she learned a costly lesson this holiday season.

A local teacher said her money disappeared before she realized what had happened.

But it’s possible the funds from your gift cards are just waiting for you to claim them.

It was a present Laura Terry received from her students. But now her Mastercard gift card is worth half its value because she never read the fine print.

The card’s inactivity fee kicked in after sitting unused for a year.

After that deadline, Mastercard started deducting $2 from Terry’s balance every month.

“It feels awful that someone’s given you a present, and they want you to get the joy out of using it,” Terry said. “Just because I was saving it, it lost almost half its value.”

Her husband learned the same lesson.

“He’d been saving his gift cards,” Terry said. “One of the cards he had had gone to zero.”

While gift cards from banks can be used almost anywhere, they often carry an activation fee of $4 to $6 deducted from your card.

But depending on the gift card, it’s possible to hang onto that money for years.

“There’s about $25 million in unclaimed gift cards,” said Kevin Lyons, the spokesman for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

State law requires companies to turn over the money from expired gift cards to the Texas Comptroller after a certain time period.

Lyons said the abandonment for gift cards is three years.

“If you don’t use it, you don’t lose it,” Lyons said. “The money is yours. The issue is how you claim it.”

◊ Click Here For Unclaimed Funds 

To claim your gift card, you must provide the number on the back and your ID.

Then the state cuts you a check.

“We want to make sure we get the property to its rightful owner,” Lyons said.

Wells Fargo tops the list with $9 million in unclaimed funds, followed by Apple with $3.2 million, and Pacific Western Bank with $2.2 million.

Men’s Warehouse, Walmart and Tiffany’s also rank high on the list.

But the best advice for shoppers?

“When you get a gift card I say go spend it,” Lyons said.

“Use ’em! Don’t hold onto them like I did,” Terry said.

If you claim more than $100, the state charges a 1.5 percent fee.

Visit claimit.texas.org to see if the state owes you money.