3 Ways To Turn Your Unwanted Gift Cards Into Cold Hard Cash

by Lydia Dallett, Business Insider

giftcardmall_ccIf you found an old $20 bill in the back of a drawer, you’d probably fish it out and use it, right? How about $1 billion?

That’s how much money is floating around unused every year in wallets, closets, and coat pockets in the form of unredeemed gift cards. According to research firm CEB TowerGroup, Americans spent $118 billion on gift cards in 2013, a number that exceeds the GDP of 136 countries, and $1 billion of that goes unused.

“People need to remember that gift cards are, in essence, cash,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of the credit card and gift card website CardHub.

Thanks to the proliferation of online gift exchanges, card swaps, and card-for-cash services, getting money for an unwanted gift card is easier than ever. Plus, thanks to the CARD Act, retailers are prohibited from setting expiration dates on cards earlier than five years from the date of issuance.

What does that mean for you? Here are three easy ways to turn those forgotten cards into cash:

1. Sell them on an online gift exchange. “Selling gift cards that you aren’t going to use is a great way to free up some room in your budget, pay off some debt, or accelerate savings,” says Papadimitriou. Online gift card exchanges such as CardHub, ABC Gift Cards, and Cardpool let consumers sell their gift cards for up to 95% of the original value and receive cash or Amazon gift cards in exchange. Depending on the store the gift card is for, you may have to mail the plastic card in, but in many cases just typing in the card number works. You’re then paid through PayPal or by check.

2. Donate the funds to charity. While certain charities, like Goodwill, will accept donations in the form of gift cards themselves, some gift card exchanges are teaming up with specific charities to allow consumers to donate the value of their cards directly to that organization. In 2009, Plastic Jungle gave users the option of donating the full face value of their gift cards to DonorsChoose, an organization that crowdsources funds for classrooms across the country. Even if a particular charity will not accept a gift card, you can always redeem it through a card-for-cash program and donate the resulting goods.

3. Save money later by re-gifting. The holidays may be over, but Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. If you think an unwanted gift card has someone else’s name written all over it, tie a big red bow around it and give it in place of chocolates. (Given how many people are on diets these days, it’ll probably get a better reception.) Most stores allow you to trade in old gift cards for new ones, so there is no need to worry about giving a card bearing outdated branding.

Whatever you do, says Papadimitriou, “just don’t let all that free money disappear!”