Using Gift Cards Wisely

December 10, 2013, Written By John H. Oldshue

Gift card spending is predicted to reach an all-time high during the holidays. Eight out of ten shoppers will purchase gift cards this season and consumers will spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards, up 4% from the $156.86 they spent last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF projects total spending on gift cards will reach $29.8 billion.

As gift cards surge in popularity, they can become a present that is forgotten or goes unused. Approximately $1.7 billion in gift card money went unspent in 2012, according to CEB Tower.

Gift cards aren’t spent as quickly as a cash gift. Consumers have a tendency to slide them into a wallet or drop them in a drawer. As a result, we sometimes lose them, or forget about them and let that money go to waste.

Here are some consumer tips for using a gift card:

  1. Use them before they expire. Merchant and bank-issued gift cards must now be good for five years, thanks to the CARD Act provisions. Reloadable cards can expire five years after the money was last added.
  2. Research the fees. Some cards charge fees, such as a monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity.
  3. Keep the card number and the four-digit card security code in a safe place. You will need these to check the balance or report it if it was lost or stolen. If your virtual card is stolen, you might receive a replacement with the value equal to the available balance on the card at the time it was stolen.
  4. If you will not use the card, or would prefer to have the cash, you can resell the card. There are several sites, such as, and, that are a marketplace to buy, sell or exchange gift cards. You may receive as much as 80%-90% back for your gift card. Some cards are worth more than others and the price can vary between sites.
  5. Donate your gift card to charity and get a tax deduction. Many national charities and foundations, like the Kidney and Urology Foundation, accept gift card donations.

What happens to unused gift cards? The Securities and Exchange Commission allows companies to count unused gift card money as income once they can reasonably say the card won’t be redeemed. However, some states require the money from unused gift cards go to an unclaimed funds accounts. Those states can then use the unclaimed funds for general purposes until someone claims it.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of December 10, 2013. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.

About John H. Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers credit card rate issues for
View all posts by John H. Oldshue