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5 Great Ways to Use a Not-So-Great Gift Card

January 17, 2018

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It may have been a well-meaning gift, but sometimes you receive a gift card to a store you don’t frequent and aren’t quite sure what to do. Best not to put the gift card in a drawer and forget about it. Although, somewhat surprisingly, you wouldn’t be alone if you did. According to a 2015 report by the CEB TowerGroup (now Gartner), $973 million in gift card balances went unused. Consider these better options for gift cards you don't want—or better yet turn that card into cash.

1. Sell the Card and Keep the Cash

Recognizing that one person’s unwanted gift card could be another’s money-saving treasure, many companies have started buying and selling “used” gift cards. Sellers can get a portion of the card’s value sent to them via check, PayPal, or direct deposit. The website then resells the card for more than it paid, but less than the face value, and keeps the difference. (Don’t overlook that second part — you can buy gift cards for less than their face value to easily save money when you shop.)

GiftCardGranny, which shows you the current sale and offer prices at a variety of websites, says sellers may be able to get up to 92 percent of the face value of their card (i.e., $92 if your card has $100 on it). However, the exact amount depends on which store the gift card is for, the face value, and current demand. Some intermediaries, such as CardPool, will also offer you a bigger payout if you exchange your another gift card, such as one for Amazon, rather than ask for cash.

Some marketplaces, such as Raise, also allow you to list your card for sale at any price you want and will then take a cut if and when it sells.

2. Use Your Gift Card to Buy a Gift Card

Large box retailers, such as Walmart or Target, may let you use a gift card to buy a gift card for another store. It may not always make sense, as large retailers already offer so much there’s usually something you need for sale, but it could be fun to buy a restaurant gift card for a date night.

Also, keep in mind that some companies have multiple brands that accept each others’ gift cards. For example, you can use Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy gift cards at any of the four stores.  

3. Support a Charitable Cause

Supporting an organization or cause that you believe in could be a wonderful way to keep a gift card from going to waste. You can go about this by giving the card directly to the organization, although double-check that they want and can accept the card first.

Alternatively, you could use the gift card to buy and donate products. Some nonprofit organizations even maintain a list of products they frequently use and need if you’re looking for inspiration.  

4. Use the Card and Move Money in Your Budget

Sometimes, it’s not so much the case that you don’t want a gift card as it just doesn’t seem very exciting. You may still be able to find a way to buy something you need and would have bought anyway, and use the money you save to buy something a little more fun.

5. Try to Get the Full Cash Value for the Gift Card

You may have a few options if you like the idea of trading your card for cash and want to try and get the full face value. The most direct is to sell the gift card to a friend or family member who frequents the store. But tread delicately, you don’t want to offend the gift giver.

Your state may also require retailers to give you cash for your gift card. However, this only applies if the value of the gift card’s value is less than a specific amount (usually $1 to $5, although it’s $10 in California). And in some cases, you may need a gift receipt.

Bottom Line

While your heart might not have lept when you first unwrapped your present, deciding what to do with an unwanted gift card can be fun in itself. Try to sell the card for cash, consider how you could use the card to support a good cause, or find something you need at the store and use the money you save somewhere else. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you use the card in its entirety.

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Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance finance writer based in Oakland, California. He specializes in consumer credit, personal finance, and small business finance, and loves helping people find ways to save money. In addition to Varo, Louis works with a variety of financial services firms, credit bureaus, and educational websites, including Credit Karma, Wirecutter, Funding Circle, and Experian.

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