Although gift cards can give the recipient flexibility in how to spend money, other times they’re more likely to sit in a drawer unspent until they expire.
If the gift card is from a retailer you regularly patronize or a business that can help you defray monthly expenses, then great — you’ll likely be eager to spend it right away. Once forgotten about, however, unused cards can go to waste.
But there are ways to extract value from an unwanted gift certificate to a store you no longer shop at or that has closed, according to experts. Here are four options they suggest.
Use it to buy a gift for someone else
First, assess whether you’re likely to use the gift card — even if it is to purchase a gift for someone else.
Take stock of upcoming holidays, birthdays and celebrations for which you’d already planned on purchasing a present. If you use a gift card you already own for this kind of purchase, it frees up money in your bank account.
“Maybe you don’t like to shop there, but you can buy stuff there that you would give as a gift to somebody else,” said gift card expert Shelley Hunter. “When you do that, you’re freeing up money you were going to spend anyway, but now you don’t have to.”
Alternatively, you can donate an unwanted gift card to a nonprofit organization that can then auction it off for cash at a fundraiser. “If you make a donation, they can turn into value for that organization, and you’ll get a tax write off,” Hunter said.
Trade it for another gift card
The easiest way to trade a gift card you don’t want is to exchange it with someone who holds a desirable gift card of comparable value.
There are also websites like CardCash.com that allow you to trade gift cards with others to more than 1,300 retailers. For example, a $50 Bloomingdales gift card will earn you a $40.75 gift card to Walmart, or $42.53 in credit at CVS. A $50 gift card to Best Buy is more valuable, earning you $44.10 at Home Depot.
Other top-selling gift cards on the site include Lowes, Foot Locker, Nike, Starbucks, Apple and more.
“A gift card to a big store that you yourself just don’t shop at is going to be easier to offload than something for a really niche store,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com.
Sell it for cash
Visitors to sites like CardCash.com can also sell unwanted gift cards for cash, although you’ll get less bang for your gift card buck.
“You will not get the face value for any gift cards if you’re using third-party sites. For a $25 gift card to Walmart, on a good day you’ll get $22. It depends on what supply is like,” Ramhold said.
On Tuesday, CardCash was offering $21.50 in cash for a $25 Walmart gift card.
Use it to buy another gift card
Other times, you can use a gift card for a retailer, like a grocery chain, to buy a card for a specialty retailer, like Amazon or Apple near the checkout counter.
“This is not always the case, because sometimes you have to use the whole card or purchase something that is the exact same value,” Ramhold said.
Although gift cards can be a dud, they remain at the top of consumers’ wish lists, according to Ted Rossman, credit card expert at CreditCards.com.
The best way to get full value from a gift card is to use the funds yourself as soon as possible, assuming you like the store and it is a convenient place to shop.
If not, selling or trading them at a discount is always an option.
“It’s not full value, but it beats gathering dust,” Rossman said. “The worst thing we can do is let them go dormant.”