Spending

4 smart ways to use a gift card that would otherwise go to waste

If you got one you don't want to use, here's what to do with it.

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Odds are good you got at least one gift card as a holiday gift: Just over half (52%) of consumers said they were more likely to give gift cards than in previous years, according to 2020 data from Blackhawk Network. Restaurant gift card e-commerce sales, specifically, increased 29% from last year, as many Americans aimed to support eateries that had to shutter or operate at lower capacity due to the pandemic.

Though gift cards are the most popular type of gift for the 14th year in a row, according to WalletHub.com, lots of gift card balances are never redeemed. Last year, Americans had more than $20 billion in unused gift cards, store credits, and other vouchers, according to a 2020 Bankrate study. For the typical person, that comes out to $167 in value that's lingering in your wallet.

If you received a gift card to a store you don't patronize or a restaurant you don't enjoy, you don't have to let that money go to waste. Here are four ways to make the most of it.

1. Spend it on gifts for someone else

If you receive a gift card to a store where you don't shop, think about whether you can use that credit to shop for others on birthdays or upcoming holidays. If it is to a restaurant you don't like, for example, you might use it to order a special dessert for a loved one on Valentine's Day.

"Maybe the store you got the gift card to doesn't have anything that you like, but perhaps they carry some products your mom or sister would like that you could use toward a Mother's Day or birthday gift," consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch told Grow.

Thinking ahead ensures that your gift card doesn't go to waste, and you don't have to come up with extra money in your budget for future gifts.

2. Regift it

More than half, 57%, of people in the Bankrate survey have held on to unused gift cards for more than a year. Because of the so-called CARD Act of 2009, gift cards cannot expire for at least five years. And most gift cards have no expiration date, Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate.com, previously told Grow.

That means if you got a gift card for Christmas that you know you won't use, you can save it until next Christmas and regift it to someone who does shop at that retailer. If you feel like you'll forget about it in a year, consider other upcoming holidays or birthdays for which a gift card could make a good present.

Before regifting, be sure to check the terms and balance. Airline vouchers can have earlier expiration dates, for example, and so can promotional gift cards retailers offer as bonus gifts with purchase. Note, too, that the CARD Act does allow gift card issuers to charge an "inactivity fee" that can kick in if 12 months have gone by without use.

If you received a gift card from a local business, you may want to first call and make sure they are still operating.

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3. Sell it

Sites like CardCash.com and Raise.com buy back gift cards for a lower price than the value of the card, then resell them. If you don't think you can get value from the card by spending it on family or friends or regifting it, however, selling it could help you recoup some value.

How much you might get will vary by platform and the retailer. If you're not satisfied with the price offered, or if you have a card for a local business, you can sell gift cards yourself on direct-to-consumer secondhand marketplaces like eBay or Facebook Marketplace.

Don't expect to get the full value, Rossman previously told Grow. "You get less than 100 cents on the dollar," he said. "In my experience, I would say you can get 70 to 80 cents on the dollar."

In some states, you can also redeem small amounts of gift card money for cash from the issuer. For example, in California, if you have $10 or less remaining on a gift card, you can redeem the card for cash. But in Washington, the maximum balance you can redeem for cash is $5, and in Vermont it's $1.

In my experience, I would say you can get 70 to 80 cents on the dollar.
Ted Rossman
industry analyst at Bankrate.com

4. Trade it

Most platforms that allow you to sell gift cards also allow you to trade them for another. That can be a smart move: You might be able to get more value for your unused gift card by swapping instead of selling it, says Julia Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com.

This is especially true for more "niche" stores, she says, like Build-A-Bear. "A $25 Build-A-Bear gift card will only fetch $14.25 cash, but if you opt to trade for a Kohl's gift card, you'll receive one worth $15.25 at CardCash."

Whatever you do, though, remember that you don't have to let gift card money go to waste.

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