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What To Do With Unwanted Gift Cards and Store Credits

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Gift Cards- Millions of Wasted Dollars Annually

It has happened to all of us. Maybe it was at a Secret Santa giveaway,or someone drew our name at the office, or a relative that just didn't get it but surely each of us have been the recipient of a gift card that we knew we were not going to use. Ever.

Ten Percent of Gift Cards Will Never Be Used

TowerGroup, a consulting firm out of Needham. Mass., estimates that out of the 58.3 BILLION dollars in gift cards bought this year a full ten percent will never be used. This causes a problem for the retailers because they have to record the money as a liability for a period of time. This keeps their financial reports off for that period.

However, after the point that the cards are no longer valid (most have an expiration) the company can report the money as profit. One hundred percent profit.

States Raking in the Benefit

Some states are seeing a windfall themselves. Maine has recently decided that after two years a dormant (unclaimed ) gift certificate will revert to the state as unclaimed property. The state will take 60% and give 20% to the retailer as book-keeping and accounting fees. The state announced that the money should be returned to the consumer, however I fail to see how the state taking 60% does that.

So, you got a gift certificate to a steak restaurant and you are a vegan. What do you do with things like that? What are the options?

Consumer Reports on Gift Cards

Trading, Direct Sell, and Auction Sites

There are trading, direct sell, and auction sites where you can offer the certificate in trade or for sale. There is generally a small fee or percentage involved. If you are selling the card directly to the site you can expect to get about 60-70% if the face value of the card.

Generally speaking, offering it for sale will mean that you sell it for a discounted rate from the face value. For example, at one siteCertificate Swap, I found a $100 Albertson's Grocery certificate for $87.00 and a $50. Applebees certificate for $47.00.

At Card Avenue you can set up a wish list and trade cards you have for cards you want. There is also an auction area of the site where you can bid on cards as well as put cards up for auction. In that area, for example I saw a $150 Nordstroms gift card on auction, with the current bid being $125.00.

Numerous Starbucks cards were for sale or trade, many traders specify that they would be happy trading for any merchant. There is a small fee for trades and a percentage taken for auctions.

Swap-a-gift is more of a classified type site for gift cards. You list your card for ninety days at a flat fee of $1.99, and then if it doesn't sell you can re-list it for free. Also with Swap-a-gift you can sell directly to the website and get cash immediately as long as your card value is $25.00 or more.

Another option is Gift Card Buy Back a site that allows you to sell your cards directly to them. In fact, they point out that you could potentially buy a discounted gift card from another site and sell to them at a profit. Interesting.

Gift Card Bazaar allows you to sell directly to them or list your card and wait for a buyer. The buy back rate for the is 68% of the face value of the card.

And of course, eBay is always up for what ever you want to auction on it but I think the prices are generally lower than some of the less known sites.

Donating Gift Cards

Another thing you can do is to donate the gift cards to your favorite charity. The local homeless shelter, for example could benefit greatly from gift cards to department stores and super centers where they could pick up everything from office supplies and clothing to groceries. The SPCA can benefit from cards to places like Petco, and the young couple at church that never seem to have enough money might really enjoy a card to Starbucks.

Maybe you have a gift card to a grocery store..The local food bank would probably love it. Use your imagination and keep your eyes open. There are lots of places your unwanted gift cards can be a blessing.

Sometimes the best revenue from a gift card, the best gift of all, is the enjoyment you get in giving it away.

Can I Return a Gift Card for Money Back?

Generally speaking you cannot redeem a gift card for cash. A store that has sold a gift card will usually not give you cash in return for the card. If you buy something you can usually get amount balances of less than $5 back as cash though.

A possibility, and stores all differ so make sure you understand what your store's policy is, is to buy something with most of the gift card money. Get cash back for the balance, and then, at some later point in time return the item for cash back or credit on your credit card. This is not entirely ethical but as a last resort it may work for you. It is not illegal.

Don't Let Cards Benefit the Company

Most of all, you don't want to allow your gift cards to sit and do nothing. Why benefit a huge company like Macy's with an extra $50 bucks just because you don't like to shop there? Make the cards work for you, whether ethically or financially and use them wisely.


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    • cancerina profile image

      cancerina 5 years ago

      omg so much money on stupid gifts... crazy.

      but it's a great post, thanks a lot. I have loads of this kind of cards, for tyres, for dog accessories, but damn I have a cat! :)

    • profile image

      Paul 5 years ago

      Word smartness

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Nice information,Thanks a lot ..We don't need unwanted Gifts..These days we get lots of spam

    • profile image

      George 6 years ago

      Great post!

      Also, I use because they actually have customer support, unlike the other guys, and their rates are really good.

    • catherinenbrooks profile image

      Catherine Brooks 6 years ago from Santa Rosa, CA

      Wow..I thinks that is original idea for gifts...

    • profile image

      honeylee 6 years ago

      Great idea. That is one great option the couple can do to the gifts they received but may not be useful to them. But no no to giving it as a gift again.

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 6 years ago from United States

      I guess you could always give the gift cards as a gift to others as well...

    • profile image

      Aparna 7 years ago

      hi guys

      got lots of babies r us card...kid is all grown up...what to do...

    • profile image

      Susan 7 years ago

      I love the service these different websites give us! I get cash for gift cards at many of them.

    • wsupaul88 profile image

      wsupaul88 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      This is so true! Great Hub!

    • profile image

      shawn 7 years ago

      my 15 year old daughter bought some things at spencers and deciced to return it the next day but they do not give cash back she got a instore credit very unhappy. will not use 63. at store now what does she do

    • profile image

      bletchen 7 years ago from uk

      These are some good ideas. Personally i don't give gift vouchers for the exact reason that they always end up at the back of a drawer.

      I once looked into setting up a website where people could trade and sell gift vouchers, then i realised ebay did it better than i ever could!

    • YU_First 1 profile image

      YU_First 1 7 years ago from Uganda

      I would also concur with donating them to charity organisations. I am sure they will put the cards to good use.

    • profile image

      Jacob 7 years ago

      I just wanted to let you know that there is another option out there and that would be Recarded is a unique company that buys, sells, and trades new and partially used gift cards. You can buy gift cards at discounted rates and also get rid of the ones you don't want and either trade it for another one or sell it and get cash. The best part is that there is no mailing of gift cards and waiting, the transaction is all done electronically so it is instant!

    • belliott profile image

      belliott 7 years ago

      Great information I was unaware of regarding gift cards. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • profile image

      Raul Missael Juarez 7 years ago

      I want gift cards. Anybody want to give them to me?

    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 8 years ago from Virginia

      There are unwanted gift cards? Heh?

    • J. McCoy profile image

      J. McCoy 8 years ago from CA (originally)

      Wow, this is a great hub! But, the most valuable thing to me was the idea that you can buy gift cards for 20-30% off their face value at the sites you listed. I found cards for everything from Target to Barnes & Noble and Papa Johns at 5-20% off. We have 4 kids and this could make a noticeable difference in our budget. I imagine it'll be a good buyer's market in January, too. Thank you!

    • profile image

      belfast maine 9 years ago

      Great Hub you have here :) Please check out my Belfast Maine website would love to network!

    • Rapidwriter profile image

      Rapidwriter 10 years ago from UK

      Thanks for this. Very informative and useful. I really enjoyed reading your profile, too.

      Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      Abhinaya 10 years ago

      My gift cards are with me.They are as old as ever.I wish we had this facility in every country.Informative hub.

    • profile image

      markion 10 years ago from London

      wow, $8billion in used gift cards? have these people ever heard of ebay?

    • coolbreeze profile image

      Rik Rodriguez 10 years ago from Hawaii

      The state will take 60% and give 20% to the retailer as book-keeping and accounting fees.

      Hey Welcome to the USA HUH ;-) Nice Hub very informative

    • Marye Audet profile image

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      yep..I was amazed at the amount wasted! I don't give gift cards usually..unless it is like a Starbucks card in my husband's stocking at Christmas.

      I don't shop at wal-mart (or sam's) because I violently disagree with their social ethics and foreign trade policies so that would never be an issue for me.

    • Jerrico Usher profile image

      Jerrico Usher 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      In california they have to redeem them if you ask at any value. at walmart you get a gift card not cash if you do a return without a reciept, however they usually print up special cards that show the register person that you got it for returning (they say return gift card on them) however 9 times out of ten they run out and use regular gift cards (with the smiley on it) and these can not be distinguished from regular cards and must be cashed out.

      They can however check them by the summery (walmart gift cards not only tell you how much is on it but it lists the last 10 amounts you spent on it and the cashier gives you a reciept.. unlike the bank ones you have a hard time finding out the amount left, walmart cards can be scanned at any register (in any walmart not just the one you bought it at) for the balance.. their cards expire after 3 years.. so its a pretty safe bet.. not to mention they are like a grocery store and more in one, even sams gas stations use walmart gift cards so based on all the other variables I like these cards the best, worst case senario you get cash back..

    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 10 years ago

      Wow that's a lot of unspent money!

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 10 years ago

      Great Hub, really informational.

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

      I love gift cards. I usually get them to places that I'll use them. Last year it was Petsmart and Bath and Body Works. This year, Petsmart, Petco, and Ebay! Can't wait to use them up!!!

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney

      That is an original idea I like the idea. My first thought was to give to an organization like the salvo's. I am sure they would take the amount to be able to give away to the needy