5 Things You Need to Know About Gift Cards


What do gift cards and laundry-day socks have in common?

Both disappear at alarming rates.

Nearly six in ten consumers put gift cards on their holiday wish lists this year, ahead of all other types of sought-after purchases, yet so some many of them drift to the back of desk drawers or sink to the bottom of purses, never to be seen again — or spent. 

About a billion dollars’ worth of gift cards are never used. It’s a billionaires club you don’t want to join. 

Unused gift cards might be cash in the coffers for retailers, but it leaves consumers short of what they're rightfully entitled to. 

So January 18 has been set aside to tackle this problem. National Use Your Gift Card Day has been added to the calendar to remind consumers to grab those babies out of their safe hiding places and hand them to cashiers — or into their digital shopping carts.

The most important thing to know about gift cards is: You need to spend them.

Here are five other things you should know about gift cards.

1. You can track Gift Card balances.

A quick peek at the app store shows numerous apps that offer to keep track of your balances, upping the odds that you will use every penny owed. Which app is the best? The one you will use, of course.

If you don't use a smart phone, check the documentation that came with your card; it may include a URL where you can register your card online and track your balance.

2. Depending on where you live, you can get money back.

If a gift card has been redeemed for at least 90 percent of its value and the card cannot have value added to it, Massachusetts allows consumers to receive the card's balance in cash.

If the gift card does allows value to be added to the card and the balance is $5 or less, you can receive that $5 or less in cash. No need to reach for the gum aisle to make up the difference.

Gift cards are federally regulated, but your state may have other legislation that protects consumers. Here's a site that explains federal regulations and lets you search laws by state.

3. You can file a claim in bankruptcy court over them.

If you receive a gift card from a company that then goes out of business, you can file a claim as part of the company’s bankruptcy process. Resolution can take a while, though, and proves again the importance of spending your gift cards as soon as possible.

Think creatively; many stores sell basic items such as batteries, gloves or warm socks that are generic enough to have broad appeal even if the store in question isn’t your favorite or is unfamiliar.

4. You can Sell Your Gift Cards.

There are online options and kiosks where you can trade your cards for cash. You won't get the face value of the card, though, so be sure that you definitely can’t use the card. But if you know you'll never use the card, getting a portion of the value sure beats a card getting you nothing.

5. Gift cards aren't recyclable.

Gift cards have a surprisingly complex construction that includes polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, which generally requires a specialized recycling process. This means they cannot be tossed into most recycling bins.

Here's some good news if you're concerned about the environment: Some businesses send gift cards out for specialty recycling after they've been cashed in.

So give yourself — and the planet — a present: Spend those gift cards on Jan. 18, if not before.

Looking to save more money in the new year? Download our free Money Management Planner to help you make 2020 your best year yet.

Download your free copy of the  Money Management Planner

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About Author

Sandra Quadros Bowles
Sandra Quadros Bowles

Sandy Quadros Bowles is a veteran journalist who has received local, state, and national journalism awards. A resident of New Bedford, MA, she is an animal enthusiast, an avid reader, and an enthusiastic traveler.

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