Americans have $21 billion in unused gift cards — here’s how to cash in

Personal finance

iTunes song gift cards are seen on display at a Best Buy store in San Francisco.

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It’s the gift Americans want most. It’s also the one they may be least likely to use.

Half of all adults currently own unredeemed gift cards or store credits totaling $167, on average, according to a new Bankrate.com report.

Collectively, that represents $21 billion in untouched funds, Bankrate found.

“Gift cards are as good as real money,” said Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at Bankrate.com. However, “people forget about them,” he said.

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More than one-third, or 36%, of those with money left on gift cards said they won’t use all of it, the Bankrate report said.

Further, more than half, or 57%, also said they have held onto at least one of them for more than a year. Bankrate polled more than 2,600 adults in January.

The good news is that, around a decade ago, new rules added consumer protections to gift cards.

Now, “by law, gift cards cannot expire for at least five years from the date of issuance,” according to Jill Gonzalez, a spokesperson for personal finance website Wallethub.

Still, Rossman recommends using gift cards sooner rather than later. For starters, gift cards won’t retain their value if a business goes under.

And certain cards, such as Visa and Mastercard, still might expire.

Rossman recommends selling unwanted gift cards online through gift card exchanges. Sites such as Cardpool and Raise help you trade in those unwanted cards for cash.

Some of the most valuable cards include those from iTunes, Target and Airbnb, according to Cardpool. (Alternatively, savvy shoppers can score gift cards at steep discounts through the same online marketplaces.)

The resale value can vary but generally ranges from below 70% to over 90%, depending on the card and its availability. Wallethub ranked what it considers the best gift cards of 2020 based on popularity and resale value, among other factors.

You can also donate unwanted gift cards to charity, in which case the gift cards would be sold and 100% of the proceeds could go to a worthy cause.

“If nothing else, do some good,” Rossman said.

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