What to Do With Your Unused Gift Cards (Besides Spend Them on Yourself)

You're probably sitting on some of the $21 billion in unused gift cards. Here's how to put them to work for you.

If you have a fat stack of gift cards stashed in a drawer or buried in the bottom of your purse, you're not alone. A recent survey by Credit Summit found that there are more than $21 billion in unused gift cards just waiting to be spent, and more than two-thirds of people in the U.S. have at least one unused gift card.

"Sometimes, people could be waiting to apply more than one gift card to cover a large purchase or are waiting for the 'right time' to redeem these funds," says Courtney Alev, Credit Karma’s consumer financial advocate. "More often than not, this leads to people misplacing or losing the gift cards and ultimately not using them at all."


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Obviously, the best thing to do is actually use the gift card yourself as soon as possible after you get it, since that's what the gift giver intended. So before you decide to part ways with an unused gift card, put them where you might actually use them, whether it's in your wallet for in-person purchases, or by your computer for online shopping.

But what if you got a card for a store, restaurant, or site that totally isn't your taste? Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies for ensuring that the card's value isn't lost.

Cash Them In

In many states, you can cash in small balance gift cards. In California, the balance has to be $10 or less, while in several other states, stores are required to provide cash for cards with balances under $5—a great boon if you've used part of the balance on a large purchase, and only have a few dollars left on the card.

If you've already used part of the balance, there is a way to ensure you don't lose the rest. "People are left with odd balances that they forget about and end up forgetting to redeem that money," Alev says. "If you have a gift card that has been partially used, write the date and the balance on the front after you use it so you’re able to easily see how much you have left on the card. This may make it more likely you'll use the gift card for a future purchase."

Regift the Gift Card

You may not love that restaurant or clothing store, but someone else in your life probably does. Set the gift card aside for the next gift-giving occasion, or simply a day when they can use a real pick-me-up, and then surprise them with it.

Don't forget to check the gift card packaging to make sure it hasn't been personalized to you. If it has, you can take the card off of its original packaging, and use glue dots to pop it onto a new greeting card.

Use them for Birthday or Holiday Shopping

If you don't want to shift the burden of using the gift card onto someone else, you can always use it to buy actual gifts you think they'd love. Bonus: It can help reduce the financial sting of gift shopping at a typically expensive time of year.

Sell or Trade on a Gift Card Exchange Site

You can recoup some of the card's value if you sell or exchange it for a card you'll use. Opt for legit gift card exchange sites like CardCash and Raise—which also guarantee the value of your new card for at least 45 days after you buy them. (And hopefully, you'll use the new card faster than you used the original one!) "You'll get a portion of the balance back in cash that you will actually use," Alev says—which is better than nothing at all.

Donate to Charity

With a little research, you can find charities that'll accept gift cards as donations, whether it's large charities like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, or local charities like a food pantry or animal rescue, which can use them to purchase what they need most.

Another great option: Many local groups have basket raffles or giveaways and look for donations to build their baskets—so send a few of your unused gift cards their way to help a good cause.

Or check out Charity Gift Certificates, which allows you to convert your entire merchant gift card balance to a charitable donation to the charity of your choice, from hundreds of options.

Give Them Away

If you really don't think you'll use them, share the wealth on your local Freecycle site or Buy Nothing group, or as a just-because gift for a friend or neighbor in need. You'll bring a little extra joy—and a little less clutter—to your life.

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