HomePersonal FinanceWhat to do with Unwanted or Semi Used Gift Cards

What to do with Unwanted or Semi Used Gift Cards

Every year I receive gift cards, and in the past I wouldn’t always use the entire balance, or I just wouldn’t the card at all (*gasp*).  So I had to come up with a couple of ways to combat wasting the gift card.

Before you judge me about wasting gift cards, according to the New York Times, the statistics concerning gift card waste are horrible and stores even bank on it,

This year, nearly $5 billion of the money that well-meaning givers have put onto gift cards will go unspent, according to TowerGroup, a financial services consulting firm. The money then reverts back mostly to the retailers and banks that loaded the plastic initially.

Not every big retailer or bank discloses it, but Best Buy was kind enough to note that it kept $38 million in breakage in its most recent fiscal year. Home Depot cleared $37 million.

What to do with Unwanted Gift Cards for National Chains/Stores

We all know that feeling, you open up a package which is OBVIOUSLY a gift card and it is a store you have never visited nor want to visit.  Worse is when you open up the card and the amount barely gets you anything in the store.  The latter situation angers me more than the former.  Come on! You know that $10 at best buy isn’t going to even get me a new DVD.

There are a number of websites out there that will buy your unwanted gift cards, but I find the best thing to do is head to e-bay for the more popular stores.  A simple search on ebay for the terms “gift cards” will yield almost 7,000 results.  Yup, that is SEVEN THOUSAND.  If you are doing a popular nation-wide chain you are likely to get 85 to 90% of the card’s value!  I know the stats because I once owned a website that would buy cards from people, and then put them on ebay so I knew how much I had to discount my offer (Ironically, and painfully the very first episode of my favorite show had a similar business model and the guy got a couple hundred grand from the sharks – lesson learned: stop being lazy).

But, Evan you are losing 10 to 15% of the card’s value? So what?! Much like the Mafia’s mentality, its all profit because you didn’t pay for it.  Secondly, re-read those stats above, if you weren’t pumped about the gift card to begin with you are likely going to fall in the crowd that let best buy (or pick another retailer of your choice) keep $38,000,000!

What to do with Unwanted Gift Cards for Local Businesses

First thing I do is search for them on e-bay and hope that the business is popular enough that someone in my region is looking for that gift card.  If that fails, an option is to buy something from that store and sell it on e-bay or Craig’s List.  Last, but certainly not least, swap/trade with friends and family.  Just make sure you don’t try to swap it with the person that gave it to you!

What to do with a Semi-Used or Partially Used Gift Card

That same NYT author highlighted my problem

…I need to find a retailer where the people at the register won’t look at me cross-eyed when I request that they split the transaction between the gift card and another form of payment.

I have no idea why, but that sort of cross-eyed response embarrasses the hell out of me!  I was so embarrassed that for the longest time I allowed those gift cards with a few bucks just lapse and become worthless.  But then I had an idea that works with those gift cards that have a major credit card symbol on it (i.e. visa, amex, etc.):

  1. Determine the exact dollar amount on the gift card (doesn’t matter how small)
  2. Find a bill you pay online, any bill that allows you to pay by credit card.
  3. Pay that bill with the 27 different gift cards you have left

This way you use ever last cent, and have no feeling of embarrassment.  I literally paid my sprint bill once with 4 different gift cards that I had laying around.  If that semi-used card is from a national retailer or local business I would utilize the options mentioned above.

Do you do anything else with your unused or partially used gift cards?



  1. One professor who studies gift cards estimated that Wal-Mart could have around $1 billion of unused gift cards floating around at any given time… that’s a pretty nice interest free loan for capital expansion!

  2. When you add the interest free loan with the fact that a good percentage won’t be redeemed it seems like a win-win for companies.

    Great Post!


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