Tips For Using Gift Cards

Gift cards make great gifts, but they won’t do much for you if they go unused. Each year, almost 85% of Americans give or receive gift cards, but over half of this goes unspent. That’s right—out of 3 billion dollars loaded onto gift cards each year, an estimated 1.7 billion isn’t used. This is called “spillage.”

There are several reasons for this. Consumers may not like the store or company that issued the gift card. Or, gift cards can get lost or thrown away by mistake, perhaps getting mixed up in piles of wrapping paper. But at the end of the day, gift cards are free money, and you want to be sure not to waste it. Watch the video, and then check out our recap of some strategies you can use to get the most out of your gift cards.

Trading, Repurposing, and Selling Gift Cards

Here are some strategies for the gift cards you aren’t planning on using, perhaps because you don’t shop at the company that issued the card:

  • Convert the card into cash on sites like Gift Card Granny.
  • Trade the card you don’t want for one you do on sites like Card Cash.
  • Carefully donate your card to local charity or online through sites like Gift Card Giver.
  • Thoughtfully re-gift your card, keeping in mind that while it remains valid for at least 5 years, it can devalue after just 1 year due to monthly dormancy fees.
  • Other Tips for your Gift Cards

    Use these general tips for your gift cards, especially the ones you plan to spend, to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck:

    Record your card’s information.
    Make a copy of the front and back of each card. Include the issuer’s toll-free number if it’s not already printed on the card. In some cases, gift cards can be used in online transactions, so even if you lose the physical card, you will still have the info you need to make a purchase.

    Put your card(s) in a safe place.
    You don’t want to flaunt these and leave them in plain sight. You wouldn’t do that with cash would you? Instead, put them in your wallet or purse or consider devoting a unique place in your home to keep all your gift cards in one place.

    Spend the card sooner rather than later.
    If you continue to put off using your gift card, you may eventually forget that you have it or you may lose it. It’s also important to spend the fund before the card expires or any transaction or dormancy fees occur.

    Use it on necessities.
    Sure, a gift card is “free money.” But this doesn’t mean that you have to blow it. Instead, consider using the card for necessities that you would have to buy anyway. Using it in this way will truly “save” you money. Of course, this advice depends on your financial situation and financial goals, such as deciding if you need to save extra to pay off debt.

    Know the terms and conditions.
    Be sure to know the terms and conditions of your card, especially understanding if there are any fees. On top of this, you will want to know whether your card can be split with a cash purchase. For instance, if you want to buy something that costs $100, but you only have $50 on your card, you want to make sure that you are allowed to split the purchase and pay for the rest in cash. In the past, this has been difficult with bank-issued cards.

    Additional Resources

    If you still have a problem with a gift card, contact the issuer for help. If you’re not satisfied, you can report problems to the Federal Trade Commission at 1.877.FTC.HELP, your state attorney general’s office or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s Consumer Assistance Group at 800.613.6743 or

Want to learn other ways to save money?

Talk to one of our nonprofit credit counselors for free.

Get Started