Everything you need to know about gift cards, plus the most reputable sites our experts suggest for trading and selling unused cards
The total amount of money people leave on gift cards every year seems almost obscene. A Bankrate.com survey from July 2021 found there was about $15 billion in unused gift cards floating around in purses, wallets, desk drawers and everywhere else Americans tuck away the little pieces of plastic. Chances are you probably have one or two gift cards right now, or a text or email with a link for an electronic card quietly languishing on your phone or tablet. It happens. We get it.
The survey of 2,387 U.S. adults conducted this summer also found that nearly half of respondents have lost the use of a gift card, voucher or store credit at some point because they let it expire, failed to use it before a business closed permanently or simply lost track of it.
Shelley Hunter, a consumer guide at Giftcards.com, advises people to use gift cards as soon as possible. People often fail to use their gift cards because the card is not a fit, she says. But rather than repurposing the card, they hold onto it thinking an opportunity to use it may eventually arise. “If your first instinct tells you the card won’t get used,” she says, “find a different way to use it.”
HerMoney is marking National Use Your Gift Card Day with a friendly (and timely!) reminder to spend or give away your gift cards to help reduce the astronomical amount of money wasted on cards that are often given with love and then never redeemed.
TREAT GIFT CARDS LIKE CASH
If you received a $20 bill tucked inside a greeting card, you would immediately put the money in your wallet and possibly even spend the cash the next time you went to a store. People should do the same with gift cards, Hunter says. Place the gift card in your wallet (next to the debit or credit card you use most often) and then plan to spend it right away.
THE BEST TIME TO USE GIFT CARDS
Besides using a card within the first few days of receiving it, Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews.com, says waiting for a sale to use the card allows you to stretch the value of the gift and make your funds go further. So if you received gift cards this holiday season and haven’t used them yet, mid-January is the perfect time to take advantage of the deep discounts being offered by local and national retailers on everything from calendars and books to sheets and comforters.
CONSIDER TRADING OVER SELLING
More often than not, Ramhold says, “trading one gift card for another produces a better rate than trying to sell it for cash. If you have a card that’s from a store that sells many different items, like Target, Amazon, or even Home Depot, you may be able to get a cash amount close to the face value of the card.” However, if the card is for a more specialized store such as one that exclusively sells pet supplies or greeting cards, only serving a niche group, you will likely end up taking a loss on the amount of the card.
IS IT SAFE TO SELL GIFT CARDS?
Because of the increase of fraud in the gift card reseller industry, Hunter says she no longer recommends selling gift cards for cash as a first choice unless it’s with someone you know and trust.
“Maybe your mom would buy that Amazon gift card from you since she shops there anyway,” Hunter notes, “or your friend would give you $20 for a $25 Starbucks gift card because she stops there every day on the way to work.”
Because gift cards can be redeemed online or digitally in stores, you don’t need the physical gift card to use the value of the card. Scammers on social media or online marketplaces try to get gift card numbers without paying for them. They use tricks, Hunter says, like fake websites or they ask to do a balance check together so they can listen in and get the numbers. Her advice is to be very cautious with your gift card numbers until you’ve been paid for the transaction.
WHERE TO SELL
Those who want to sell their gift cards for cash outside their own social circles should look for gift card resellers that are well-established, offer a money-back guarantee and have customer service available if there is an issue, Hunter says. She recommends CardCash.com or Raise.com.
When trading isn’t an option, Ramhold suggests selling unused gift cards at Raise.com, Gift Card Granny and Cardpool. While they may have similar payout rates, she notes, it’s still a good idea to shop around to ensure you get the best offer available.
THE CASE FOR REGIFTING
While regifting anything gets a lot of scorn, Ramhold says, if you aren’t going to use a gift card, why shouldn’t you give it to someone who will? Just make sure that when you’re regifting you do it outside of the social circle you received it in, and always be gracious about receiving a gift.
Hunter suggests looking at your calendar for upcoming birthdays, weddings, graduations and other gift-giving occasions: “Give the gift card to someone else as a gift or use the gift card to buy a traditional present. The gift card might not be a fit for you, but it will be appreciated by the recipient.”
CONSIDER DONATING UNUSED GIFT CARDS
Some charities and non-profit organizations, including schools and sports clubs, are always looking for donated items they can auction off at fundraisers. Hunter suggests checking in with your favorite local nonprofit to see if they have a use for your unused gifts cards. Local pet shelters would likely love gift cards for pet supply stores or even supermarkets where they can use the cards to purchase pet food and other needed items.
And if you don’t want to donate the gift card directly, you could use it to buy items to donate. For example, Hunter says, you could buy children’s books to give to a local shelter, office supplies for a school, or female hygiene products for a refugee organization.
HANDY DANDY GIFT CARD GUIDE
It’s important to know how long you have to use a gift card and if (and when) it expires. Thanks to the federal Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, gift cards can’t expire before five years from their date of purchase. Same goes for reloadable gift card funds, which are valid for five years from the date of the most recent reload. The law also requires gift card issuers to disclose fees either on the card itself (that super tiny print on the back) or the card’s packaging. And in states that allow post-sale fees, the fees can’t be imposed until the card has been inactive for 12 months. No state is allowed to impose more than one after-sale fee per month.