American Express, CardCash partner to put unused gift cards to work

Chances are you still have an unused gift card lying around somewhere. And if you’re honest – or if you search hard enough – you probably have two, three or more.

According to a Bankrate.com survey conducted last summer, about 51 percent of adults in the US have unused gift cards, vouchers or store credits. The average value is $116 per person and the grand total is over $15 billion. Most gift cards no longer expire, although they can start charging an inactivity fee after 12 consecutive months of non-use.

Here’s a suggested homework assignment: Collect all those cards, find out how much they’re worth, and come up with a plan for using them. That means emptying the junk drawer, digging into the bottom of your bag, and clearing out your sock drawer and glove box.

The best ways to use gift cards

You will get the best value if you use these cards directly to purchase anything, whether that be a treat for yourself or a gift for a friend or family member.

Another option: Many gift cards are reloadable, so you can top up and gift a partially used gift card. In other words, it would be socially inconvenient to redistribute the remaining $7.87, but if you add $17.13 to make it a more acceptable $25, your recipient is none the wiser and you’re essentially saving 31 percent on that gift.

A third option is to sell your unwanted gift cards on a website like CardCash.com. You won’t get 100 percent of the value if you go this route, but it can still make sense under certain circumstances (for example, if you really need cash right now, or if the gift card is for a store that doesn’t fit your personal needs or giving gifts).

How much you receive depends on the retailer and the payment method you choose. It is often in the range of 80 to 85 percent. For example, a $100 Target gift card can be redeemed for $82 in cash. A $100 Best Buy gift card is worth $83 and an $81 Pottery Barn card is worth $81.

You can get a little more than the cash value if you exchange your gift card for another store-specific gift card. For example, that $100 Target card is worth $91.02 when converted to a Hotels.com gift card, $87.74 at CVS, and $86.10 at The Home Depot (just to name a few) . Those payouts are 5 to 11 percent more than the cash option.

CardCash generally promises fast turnaround times. It promises to send most payments within a day or two of gift card balance verification. It may take another day or two to receive the money via PayPal or bank transfer. If you exchange your gift card for a card from another store, it will be delivered electronically, which takes very little time. The other option is a paper check – that will definitely take the longest to arrive.

it comes down to

The math points to using gift cards yourself or giving them as gifts. However, it’s much better to get some value than the nothing you get when your gift cards collect dust.

I’ve sold unwanted gift cards a few times and loved getting free money, even if it wasn’t as much as I would have gotten had I used the cards to buy merchandise.

Do you have a question about credit cards? Email me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’ll be happy to assist you.

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