Spending

Shoppers are holding on to more than $150 in unused gift cards — 3 ways to cash in on that value

Twenty/20

Americans have more than $20 billion in unused gift cards, store credits, and other vouchers, according to a new Bankrate study. For the typical person, that comes out to $167 in value that's lingering in your wallet or desk drawer.

The irony is that gift cards are popular presents, says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate.com. "They show up on surveys as some of the most-wanted gifts. But then we find out that so many people are not using them, and it represents a lot of real money going to waste."

Half of Americans have at least one unredeemed gift card, according to the study. If you're among them, you don't have to let that money go to waste or buy something you don't really want.

Here are three ways to make the most of unused gift cards.

1. Spend it on 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 upcoming holidays and birthdays.

"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 says.

This way, your gift card doesn't go to waste, and you don't have come up with extra money in your budget for gift giving.

[Gift cards] show up as some of the most-wanted gifts. But then we find out that so many people are not using them, and it represents a lot of real money going to waste.
Ted Rossman
Industry analyst at Bankrate.com

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. But 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, Rossman says.

That means if you got a gift card last 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.

But make sure you check the terms and balance before regifiting. Airline vouchers can have earlier expiration dates, for example, and so can promotional gift cards retailers offer as bonus gifts with purchase. And the CARD Act does allow gift card issuers to charge an "inactivity fee" that can kick in after 12 months without use.

3. Sell or trade it

If you can't think of a family member or friend who would want the gift card, or who would want something from the store where the gift card has value, consider selling it to a third-party buyer.

Sites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com buy back gift cards for a lower price than the value of the card, then resell them. If you're not satisfied with the price offered, you can also sell them yourself on direct-to-consumer secondhand market places like eBay or Facebook Marketplace, Woroch says.

Don't expect to get the full value, Rossman says. "You get less than 100 cents on the dollar," he says. "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 your gift card for cash. But in Washington, it's $5, and in Rhode Island it's $1.

Even if you're not reaping the full value of the gift card, getting some use out of it is better than letting it go to waste. "It's not doing any good if it's just sitting in a drawer," Rossman says.

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