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How to make your unused gift card work

Chances are, you have at least one unused gift card located somewhere. And if you’re honest — or if you’re looking hard enough — then you might have two, three or more.

About 51 percent of U.S. adults now have unused gift cards, vouchers, or store credit, according to a Bankrate.com survey conducted last summer. The average value is $116 per person, and the total is more than $15 billion. Most gift cards no longer have a shelf life, although they can start charging inactive charges after 12 months of continuous non-use.

How to put your unused gift cards to work
How to put your unused gift cards to work

Here’s the homework recommendation: Round out all those cards, figure out their value, and plan their use. That means emptying garbage drawers, looking deep into the bottom of your wallet, and looking for your sock drawers and glove compartments.

The best ways to use gift cards

You’ll get the best value if you directly use these cards to buy something, whether it’s a gift for yourself or a gift for a friend or family member.

Another option: Many gift cards are reloadable, so you can load a partially used gift card and give it as a gift. In other words, it would be socially awkward to give back the remaining $7.87, but if you add $17.13 to make it $25 more acceptable, then your recipient isn’t the wiser one and you’ve basically saved 31% on that gift.

The third option is to sell your unwanted gift card on a website such as CardCash.com. You won’t get 100 percent of the value if you choose this path, but it can still make sense in some cases. (Say, if you really need cash right now or if a gift card for a store doesn’t fit your personal needs or gifting needs.)

The amount you will receive varies depending on the retailer and payment method you choose. It is usually in the range of 80 percent to 85 percent. For example, a $100 Target gift card can be redeemed for $82 in cash. The Best Buy gift card is worth $100 worth $83 and the Pottery Barn card is worth $81 worth $81.

You can get a little more than cash value if you exchange your gift card for another gift card dedicated to the store. For example, that $100 Target card was worth $91.02 when it was converted into a Hotels.com gift card, $87.74 at CVS, and $86.10 at The Home Depot (a few). Those payments are between 5% and 11% more than the cash option.

CardCash often promises the ability to turn around quickly. It is committed to sending most payments within a day or two of verifying the gift card balance. It may take another day or two to receive money through PayPal or bank transfer. If you exchange your gift cards for cards from another store, then these cards will be transferred electronically, which will not take long. The other option is a paper check — it will definitely take the longest to arrive.

The bottom line

The math indicates the use of gift cards for yourself or giving them as a gift. However, getting some value is much better than getting nothing when your gift card collects into dust.

I’ve sold unwanted gift cards on a few occasions and would love to get the equivalent of free money, even if it’s not as much as I would get if I used the card to buy goods.

Do you have questions about credit cards? Email me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com address and I am happy to help.

Written by hoangphat

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