Americans spend as much as $130 billion on gift cards each year, and about $1 billion of that goes unused. Is there a gift card languishing in your drawer that contributed to this statistic? It doesn't have to be that way. "Just as consumers wouldn't leave a check uncashed, they don't have to leave a gift card in the drawer unused," said George Bousis, chief executive of Raise, a gift card website. Here are several ways to get value out of an unwanted gift card.
Several businesses will help you sell your unwanted gift cards. Cardpool (cardpool.com) will buy your gift card outright. It's a textbook case of supply and demand, with gift cards to popular stores generating higher payouts — such as 90 percent — and obscure ones fetching less, maybe 75 percent. Cardpool pays you via check or Amazon eGift Card. If you need cash fast, you can visit a Cardpool-affiliated location (often a grocery store) and sell your gift card in person. Another technique is to sell your gift card to another consumer, which you can do on the website Raise (raise.com). Raise verifies your card's balance by having you enter the serial number and PIN, and then you set your own price. Listing the card is free. Raise takes a 12 percent commission when the card sells.
Target wants you to spend your gift card money at its stores. So the retail giant will let you trade in another store's gift card for one of its own at most of its stores. You can check its website to see which brands it accepts. Then just visit the mobile phone counter or special kiosk at the Target store — ask a manager if you're not sure where to go — and present your gift card. An employee will make you an offer. It will be for an amount less than the face value of the gift card you're turning in, and you'll receive the money on another gift card — a Target one.
On a more grass-roots level, you can swap gift cards with trusted friends and colleagues. Some people have organized highly successful swaps in their neighborhoods or at their offices.
Many charities accept gift cards as donations, even those that hold a partial balance. Even Goodwill takes gift cards. If your charity of choice does not, there are other options. CharityGiftCertificates.org gives you more than a thousand charities to choose from. You exchange your gift card for a charity donation and receive a receipt for your taxes. CardFunder (cardfunder.org) helps you create a gift card drive to gather and convert unwanted gift cards. The proceeds are then used for malaria prevention or clean water initiatives. Plywood People (plywood people.com) takes a more direct approach. You mail in your unused gift card, and the organization gives it to people or groups that can use it. Another idea? Use your unwanted gift card to purchase items that a charity needs and donate those.
Even some etiquette experts think it's fine to regift a gift card. Just make sure it's in good physical condition with a round number balance. One tip: You can often use a gift card to purchase another gift card. If yours is old and worn-looking, this could help. Regardless, be sure to give it to someone in a different circle than the person from whom you received it. And if you plan to go this route, do it early, because gift cards can incur fees in some states.
If you can't buy yourself a gift with your gift card, why not buy a gift for someone else? I know a mom who uses unwanted gift cards to buy and stockpile birthday presents for her son's friends. An even more fitting solution? Buy a present for the person who gave you the gift card — they probably like the store where they bought the card.
If you received a gift card branded with the name of a credit card company, this is a no-brainer. You don't have to spend these gift cards on actual gifts for yourself. These gift cards work just like credit cards and can be used to buy gas or groceries or whatever you need. Alternatively, if you received a store-branded gift card, see idea No. 1, and once you've got your cash in hand, you can use that to pay for necessities.
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