Use Your Gift Cards Immediately!

The Dallas Morning News and Consumer Affairs both say you should use those gift cards as soon as possible—otherwise you risk losing them, forgetting about them, or having them decline in value due to maintenance fees or expiration dates. We know this isn’t new news, but the idea that “$7.8 billion in gift card value will go unused this year” makes us cringe. If you really don’t want the card, consider selling it online, or giving it to a shelter or other charity that can make use of it.

A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that many gift cards go unredeemed. In fact, 27 percent of respondents had not yet used gift cards they received last year. Tower Group, a research and advisory firm in Needham, Mass., found that $7.8 billion in gift card value will go unused this year. Last year, the firm’s study showed that $8 billion had been left unspent.

Most survey respondents said they didn’t have time to use their cards. Others said they couldn’t find anything they liked or forgot they even had the cards.

“Get the most out of your gift cards” [Dallas Morning News]
“Gift Cards Should Be Used Quickly” [Consumer Affairs]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Parting says:

    I didn’t get any gift cads this year :) So I guess, people around me are following news…

    Now I tend to give cash in a very nice ”money holder” card. Thus looks more ”upscale” than just giving money in an envelope.

  2. KingPsyz says:

    I am guilty of leaving money on gift cards…

    Usually I am left with a dollar or two and then it seems like a waste of time, or sometimes I just forget when it’s a low balance.

    I did make good use of one the other day when I put it towards a PS3 at Best Buy on top of my credit card reward certificate.

    I personally hate gift cards, seems like such a cop out and I’m guessing the nearly 8 billion the industry is keeping is a good reason why they have pushed them for so long. Knowing full well that most people are lazy and forgetfull when they have a low balance not realising how that adds up so quickly on their end in the form of free money.

  3. rdm says:

    If you sell it online (like I did, since I got a Best Buy card), be sure to SHIP IT IF YOU ARE USING EBAY/PAYPAL and not send the number electronically. I just got taken for $100 on ebay by someone who bought the card from me then disputed the transaction with paypal (or their CC, no one will tell me exactly) after they received the code. Paypal won’t protect you if you don’t ship the item.

    Just a friendly reminder from a bitter, bitter person.

  4. glass says:


    Nope. There’s no “free money” if you don’t spend it. I thought so too until I took a few accounting classes and found that that money is held in a separate account, which the companies don’t have access to until it becomes claimed.

  5. Chris Walters says:

    @glass: I always imagined this is why cards have expiration dates…? But that’s just a guess. Do you have any idea about what happens to the cash on expired cards?

  6. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Cash rules. To some people, giving cash as a gift is thoughtless and impersonal. But I think giving a gift card at a specific store is more thoughtless and impersonal. It really limits how/where the recipient can enjoy your “gift”. If you insist on giving a gift card, give a pre-paid Visa or Mastercard instead. One with no fees or expiration dates. The recipient can spend the money for anything.. gadgets, clothes, groceries, gas, and so on.

  7. goodkitty says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: Exactly. Why does it seem like they can’t be bothered to promote their product, when it probably is the answer to all of this (save the buyer AND the merchant having to eat their usually excessive fees).

  8. gitemstevedave says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: Please tell me where I can get one. I got visa’s for people this year, and it was 2.95 a card.

  9. eelmonger says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: Those prepaid cards can be a bit of trouble. My friend got some VISA ones this Christmas and he’s having trouble using them at some online retailers because they can’t verify the billing address. I’ve got an AMEX one that has like $5 left on it but using it for anything but gum means I have to split the transaction, which is impossible at some online sites (I think a few, like Amazon will do it) and can be a pain at brick-and-mortar.

  10. crazylady says:

    good idea, but i’m pretty glad i live in a state with a bit of common sense (CA) where expiring gift cards that cannot be redeemed for cash when the balance is <$10 and have a maintenance fee are the exception rather than the rule. :)

  11. Scazza says:

    Yeah for Ontario! If I recall, in October they recently passed a law that gift cards can no longer expire, or have fees tied to them (not depreciating in value either). Could be wrong however…

  12. KyleOrton says:

    The prepaid Visas and Mastercards are pains in the ass. Unlike a gift card, using the balance on a larger transaction doesn’t take the full value off your total. You have to know the exact value and split the transaction.

    And for some reason only about 30% of area cashiers can get them to work at all. More work than they’re worth.

  13. Televiper says:

    Retailers want you to use the gift card because the average consumer spends 140% of what they receive in gift cards when the show up at the store. It also cuts down on the rate of returns, and gets more bodies into the store.

    People prefer gift cards over cash because it transmits a message about the type of gift they want that person to have. Most people receive cash and simply add it to their household cash flow (ie it goes to bills)

    Retailers have many reasons for putting expiration dates on their gift cards including: the expense of keeping unused cards on the books, and keeping old cards compatible as they upgrade their equipment. Should the retailers be held responsible for the fact that people forget their gift cards in their sock drawer?

    To me fair is an expirey date of 2-3 Years with all usage fees included in the card. If you want cash back out of the card you pay the usage fee.

  14. benko29 says:


    yep, you’re right!


    honestly though, i can’t imagine why people would let gift cards go to waste. stick it in your wallet, and if nothing else, you’ll discover some free money on your occasional wallet cleanout. then go to chapters/footlocker/wal-mart/wherever and buy something!

  15. benko29 says:

    oh! whoops, that was meant to be in response to @Scazza:

  16. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Wow. I did some Googling and I can’t find any free gift cards. Even credit unions will charge you up to $4 for a gift card. Sheesh.

    I retract my previous suggestion for Visa and Mastercard gift cards. And I’ll stick with the “cash rules” statement. :-)

  17. forgottenpassword says:

    I hate giftcards, but have been getting best buy ones for free for the past couple of years (for participating in a non-best buy promotion) & so far have about $250 in best buy gift cards. I underestand that they dont expire, dont have “maint. fees” … ARE stackable (can use several different gift cards together for one purchase). I plan on saving them all up to buy one big item I wouldnt regularly have purchased (I hate best buy).

    If best buy gives me any shit while trying to redeem them …. Imma go on a shooting rampage in the store!

  18. KogeLiz says:

    I didn’t get any gift cards this year.
    My pal has a few and has/is using them asap to help boost the holiday slump of retail sales – as purchasing gift cards doesn’t help retail sales until they’re actually used.

  19. ShadowArmor says:

    I always wondered whether retailers wait a few days to cut prices after chrismtas because they KNOW that a lot of people give/get gift cards, and are planning on spending them during those days.

    Its a proven fact that people spend more when they don’t have to count out and hand over cash. They’ll pay $25 instead of $19 for that DVD because “oh its a gift card, I gotta use it up”.

    Whenever I got Macy*s cards, I’d wait for their MLK day sale and spend it then.

  20. RandomHookup says:


    Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, they keep the money accounted for as a liability on the books, but can eventually recognize it as income after a period of time.

    Regardless, if your mom spends $100 on a gift card and you never use it, they still have your mom’s $100. If you come back in 10 years and spend the $100, they still had 10 years to make interest on the money. It’s not like the unclaimed property division where inactive bank accounts get turned over to the state forever.

  21. glenno86 says:

    I was cursed with a Macy’s gift card this year. I don’t like anything in that store, and if I do it’s way too expensive. I prefer fruit of the loom over calvin klien, etc. It was a horribly thought out gift for me and that person knew my tastes.

    Now let’s see cash which is accepted every where, never expires and I always know it’s balance or a gift card which I am limited to one store, and it says on the back “expires after 2 years”.

    I could have bought a tank of gas and a few bags of groceries but now I’m stuck buying like 1 shirt that I’ll never wear.

  22. dazette says:

    Cash is king. If a person has no time or imagination to shop for an actual present for a friend or relative then for goodness sake give cash in a nice cash folder. The recipient is then able to spend the money at their convenience and in a way that feels most like a “gift” to them, whether it is paying off a bill, hitting the mall, funding their morning Starbucks, or donating to a worth cause.

  23. DrGirlfriend says:

    I personally feel weird getting cash as a gift from anyone other than my parents. A gift card makes it feel more like a present and less than “here’s some cold hard cash”.

  24. coren says:

    @cwalters: I always figured the expiration date was trying to have the cake and eat it too. Sure, it was a nice thought when you got that gift card, but that money your loved one spent on you? Yeah, you don’t see a penny of it cuz we have some fine print right there.

    Thank God this doesn’t work in Washington. No expiration dates, no declining balances.

  25. chiieddy says:

    While my husband still has some money on some cards he got that were store based from LAST Christmas (they don’t expire EVER in Massachusetts), we made sure to use the FULL value of the Visa gift card his Mom & Dad got him this Christmas today. We didn’t wait for the 6 months to kick in when they start to charge the $2/mo fee against the balance and we made sure to use the full amount in one sitting to avoid a $0.35 per purchase fee. I hate credit company based gift cards.

  26. KogeLiz says:

    well, instead of acting ungrateful, how about you either give the gif tcard to charity or to a friend – or perhaps sell it on ebay?

  27. glenno86 says:

    I just think gift cards are a stupid (not even saying a word about the fees and expiration after two years) idea. It locks you into one store whereas cash is accepted everywhere, there for, in my opinion, is much more thoughtful then making me shop at their store of choosing. I will probably sell it to someone that actually shops there.

  28. up2late says:

    Gift cards are only a good idea if you *know* someone shops at any said retailer on a regular basis. If you have a friend/family/other who you *know* visits (say) starbucks every morning or who does a weekly run to (say) target, maybe a gift card makes sense for them as being a little more “personalized.” But maybe the same person could better use your $20 gift card to fill up their gas tank to get to work. You can’t be sure.

    Giving a gift card gift puts your gift under the control of the retailer, not to mention if the card is lost, stolen or forgotten. Visa/MC ATM cards have been running obnoxious commercials for a few years now depicting happy consumers going thru a retail assembly line and when someone -OMG pays cash!- it derails the whole damn thing.

    Screw that, I’ll count out the pennies if need be.

  29. canyonero66 says:

    I work at a big retailer (books), and it was always my experience that a purchaser using an American Express gift card (credit card style) had to know the exact amount of credit left on the card if the amount to be charged was less than the total cost of the transaction (i.e., using a card with $13.90 credit on a $14 transaction would result in a declined gift card). Yesterday, though, I accepted a partial payment on a transaction using an AmEx gift card that did not generate the Declined error, but simply extracted the remaining AmEx gift card value automatically and asked for the balance in another form of payment ( $14.00 total, random AmEx gift card accepted for the $13.90 left on it, prompted for $.10 payment). If this is a result of retail credit processing changing its methods, this retailer changing its methods, or AmEx providing more comprehensive information to the billing processors, this will make those “mystery amount” gift cards exponentially easier to use. I suspect someone’s feeling the pressure of the coming legislation…

  30. tormolen says:

    I’ve used gift Visas from Commerce when I didn’t want to use my own credit card or carry cash and they’ve been free. I do have an account at commerce.