$21 billion in gift cards go unused. Here’s how to avoid letting them go to waste

Mar 14, 2023, 11:12 PM | Updated: Mar 15, 2023, 9:14 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Gift cards: they are one of the most popular gifts to give and to receive, but that does not necessarily mean they are going to get used.

A new report from Credit Summit shows $21 billion worth of gift cards go unspent. Sound familiar?

In the past few years, I have reported on other surveys, like this one from Bankrate showing the average person keeps $116 on gift cards languishing in their wallet, junk drawer, or somewhere.

That is still a lot of inflation-busting potential that we are locking up said Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman.

“A lot of us have real money sitting around and we might as well use it,” he said.

Rossman said when you get a gift card, it is in your best interest to use them rapidly. The longer you hold onto a card, the more you will pay in inactivity fees. Plus, the risk of a store going out of business grows with time, as does the likelihood the card’s value will expire or the chance of you simply losing it.

“There are a few things you could do, I would say, to get the maximum value,” Rossman said. “You’ll either use it for yourself, or you could give it as a gift.”

There are also websites that will buy unused gift cards.

“You normally take a little bit of a haircut on the price, maybe you’ll get 80% or 85% (of the card’s value),” Rossman explained.

As for those cards that you’ve only partially used, he said that is a chance for you to save on, say, your brother’s next birthday present.

“You wouldn’t give your brother the $5.53 cent remainder, like that might be a little weird,” said Rossman. “But you can actually reload a lot of gift cards. So you can round that up to a more socially acceptable $25 or $50 or something like that.”

People surveyed do generally like receiving gift cards, but the data suggests cash is far more likely to get spent.

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$21 billion in gift cards go unused. Here’s how to avoid letting them go to waste