Last $10 On Visa Gift Card Proves Seemingly Inextractable

Kate has a $50 Visa gift card. She used $40 on it and then tried to buy some DVDs for $7, but the card was rejected. What gives?

Kate writes:

I received a $50 card from a relative (who obviously does not read Consumerist) at Christmas. I took the card to a restaurant where they said that only a portion of it could be used, if at all. They ran the card for $40 and it miraculously cleared. This happened at the end of March.

I found some really cheap DVDs on Amazon that totaled around $7, so I thought I’d use the card to pay for it. The next day Amazon sent me an email saying the card I used was rejected so I had to use another one. I’m not a math whiz or anything, but I’m pretty sure 7 is less than 10, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason for why it was rejected. This was the end of April.

Basically since then I’ve been afraid of trying to use the card for fear of rejection at the register. I’m wondering, is it possible to use the last of the $10? If so, what are some ways people have successfully spent the remaining money? I’m not above buying something I don’t want or need – I just don’t want those bastards at Visa to keep my money. Any help would be great!

Hi Kate,

Have you called the number on the back or otherwise checked the balance on the gift card? Bank-issued gift cards are notorious for tacking on all sorts of fees that can chew up your balance. Depending on what the exact card it is, you might be incurring monthly charges, inactivity fees, fees for having swiped it once at that restaurant, or fees for just thinking about your gift card.

So check your balance out, you might not have very much at all. And next time ask for cash, just like the good Consumerist Anti-Gift Card recommends:


Edit Your Comment

  1. redspeed says:

    I usually have a problem with those cards as well, and as a rule I dont give them as gifts for the problems they create. I tend to prepay for gas inside the store using them for the exact amount of the card and then toss it.

    • hansolo247 says:

      Me, too.

      I take them the day after I get them and use them all in one shot for the full amount. It’s the only way to know for sure.

      The language in them is messed up. It says that they will make “best efforts” to prevent you from charging over the balance. If it winds up going through, there are fees and Visa will come after you for the cash. It explicitly stated that “best efforts” was not any type of guarantee.

      There was a fee per month, a fee to check the balance. It was aweful…a self destructing rebate!

      • coffeeculture says:

        Same here, I use them in one shot for the full amount. I got some AT&T rebates via visa card and used it to buy Costco gift cards online. Much more useful!

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I’ve already thought about her gift card several times, so that $10 is surely gone by now.

    • Kuchen says:

      Now we’ve all thought about her gift card, so she probably owes Visa at this point.

      • Conformist138 says:

        With all the thinking fees rolling in, VISA has had a private chat with BofA about the OPs mortgage. I mean, neither of them own it, but that’s just a technicality.

  3. MuffinSangria says:

    When you uses a new card, doesn’t Amazon put some sort of temp authorization hold in addition to the total cost? Thought that’s what happened when I got a card as a refund. Ended up using mine to pay some online bills.

    • jessjj347 says:

      I bet the problem with the Amazon order is that she couldn’t use the gift card for an online purchase. I’ve never been able to and usually the cards say that online retailers may not accept them in the fine print.

  4. jennleighh says:

    If she actually does have ten dollars left, the next time she goes to the grocery store, she should tell the cashier, “This is a ten dollar gift card” and have the cashier key that in first, then pay the balance however she’d like. At least that’s how I do it at Publix; I get a lot of gift cards (poor me) at the end of the school year from well-intentioned parents, and when the balance gets low or if it’s a small card, I double-check online and use it that way. Most larger stores should be able to key it in like that. Once, a super-nice clerk at a ritzy handbag store let me use 7 gift cards for one purchase–but I went in right at store opening, was super-polite, and explained what I wanted to do ahead of time. The whole transaction took less than three minutes. It CAN be done!

    But yeah, cash rocks much harder than gcards.

    • moyawyvern says:

      I agree with this. I work in retail, and we take AmEx giftcards that are issued by the mall. We instructed to put in the exact amount of the purchase every time, even if the purchase is for less that the total on the card, so that the system does not try to authorize against the whole card. Same goes for when you only have a little left, and want to use it as a partial payment. If the purchase is $10 and there is only $7.50 left on the card and it is just swiped as usual, the system will try to authorize for the whole amount and decline the card.

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      I have also had success with using the balance of a card in this way.

      • RandomHookup says:

        And I’ve been turned down before and had cashiers who didn’t understand how to make it work. It seems to be hit-or-miss.

        • jessjj347 says:

          Yeah, they have to understand how to manually use their terminal instead of just letting the customer swipe the card reader automatically.

  5. vitajex says:

    So THAT’S why Gift Cards are so popular around Christmastime!

    “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, a card issuer assesses an inexplicable fee!”

    Only, in this version, Mr. Potter wins.

  6. stebu says:

    gift cards almost always have a way to check the remaining balance, typically printed on the back of the card. What I think would be best is a consumerist post on how to get rid of those annoying amounts on a gift card. Best method I have is to burn off the remainder at a grocery store… my local ones don’t mind running two cards for a cart of groceries.

  7. Chasiu says:

    I had a similar issue a couple of months ago when I tried using an AMEX gift card to buy something from Amazon. The card was rejected several times before we found out that Amazon won’t accept third party gift cards without a billing name / address associated with the card. Scroll down to the section on pre-paid gift card payment restrictions:

    In the end, we couldn’t use our AMEX card because the purchase exceeded the value and you can’t combine it with another credit card to cover the rest. But maybe you can call the number listed on the back of your Visa to add your name and address to the card and try the purchase again?

  8. Southern says:

    It could be the fact that since it’s a VISA Gift Card, the address & zip code that she’s putting in for the “Shipping Address” on Amazon doesn’t match what was entered when the Gift Card was purchased, which causes it to fail on validation of the Address and/or ZIP code.

    You don’t need those pieces of information for physical swipes of the card at a merchant reader (unless you’re at a gas pump) so that information is irrelevant when used in person.

    I ran into this problem myself when I purchased a couple of $200 VISA Gift Cards for my children a few years ago for Christmas, and one of my daughters wanted to use some of hers on to purchase a camera. Had to call the gift card # and have them change the information in their system so that it reflected our address & zip code.

    • jessjj347 says:

      Yeah, usually there is no name or address associated with the card holder. However, I recall seeing that with certain gift cards you can register them to have that info.

  9. gerlach says:

    It’s likely that the amount authorized by the restaurant on a $40 tab was actually more than $40 — to accommodate a tip to be added after the charge is initially authorized. Until the hold on the charge is released, the full $10 balance won’t be available.

    What I usually do with gift cards like these is to buy an Amazon gift certificate for myself — that way the exact amount of the card can be used and I can use the Amazon credit whenever I want, with no worries about expiration dates or monthly fees.

  10. PerpetualStudent says:

    Try using it at a brick and mortar. I’ve had a lot of trouble with using gift cards for online purchases. Some retailers are able to process it, others aren’t.

  11. Rharl says:

    A lot of online retailers verify your credit card through the billing address and name on the card when you submit an order. Since gift cards are not tied to a billing address or a customer’s name it was probably rejected when it tried to clear the fraud dept. I’ve seen this happen a lot with gift cards working for mail order companies or online retailers. Just use the card at the gas station and enjoy your skittles!

  12. Alvis says:

    7 can be greater than 10 for large values of 7.

  13. anime_runs_my_life says:

    I think it has more to do with the fact that VISA gift cards will let you charge the amount, and hold extra over to ensure that the amount is paid. Or so it was explained to me by a manager at a local restaurant when the husband and I tried to use one a few months back.

    You’re probably better off just using that last $10 for gas, but you’ll have to go inside to pay rather than pay at the pump.

  14. DanRydell says:

    This is why I try to use up gift cards with a single purchase. You never know when a store will authorize the card for a higher amount or whatever.

  15. Wolfidy says:

    When the balance gets low on those I look up how much is on them and put it twords my online phone bill.

  16. waffles says:

    Just go use it at Target. If they have the new scanners like my store does then they will magically suck off what is left on the card and will play nicely from there.

  17. larrycl says:

    I use gift cards to pay a piece of my utility bills (cable, cell phone, etc). I just make a $10 (for example) payment using my gift card, then pay the balance the next day using my regular credit card.
    No hassle with trying to split the transaction

    • TerpBE says:

      I do the same thing. Every time I get a prepaid Visa card, I immediately go to and apply the full balance to my cell phone bill. Then I can shred the card and forget about it. It makes it so much easier than trying to track balances and having to carry another card around in my wallet.

  18. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    What about that crazy restaurant malarkey “only a portion of it could be used, if at all”? Seems like Kate wouldn’t have a problem with Amazon if the restaurant hadn’t pulled that one on her.

    • HungryGal says:

      I experienced this last week. Eventually we gave up and didn’t use the gift card for the bill at all.

  19. coren says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow Visa decided you owed fees on it. If you live in a state (such as Washington, my home state) where there cannot be gift card fees, you can fight them and get any missing balance back.

  20. nitroburn says:

    $7 + card fees = >$10

    She must have forgot that the $50 card has at least $3.50 in fees attached to it.

  21. nitroburn says:

    Visa gift cards, for example, expire two years after being issued, in addition to charging a monthly administrative fee of $2.50 starting six months after the activation date. So a $50 gift card could be worth only $35 if it isn’t used in a year.

  22. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    If I get a gift card, as I did when I filed for a $75 rebate on my new tire purchase, I use the entire amount at one time on a utility bill, like car insurance. I’ve had no problem wiping out the entire card at one time.

  23. SlappyFrog says:

    Thank you, Consumerist, for telling her to call the number on the card.

    Remember, people, call the support line as soon as you are able to.

  24. Wolfbird says:

    I used to work for a big phone company who’d give me three bucks every time I suckered some misguided soul into not cancelling or ordering out “antivirus” software packages. Bastards gave me a stupid “gift card” where all my “bonus” earnings went. An American Express giftcard. Maybe your area is different, but around here that essentially means Wal-Mart, Future Shop and that discount aquarium depot down the street. Yeah, I had a lot of pet fish back then.

    Gift cards suck.

  25. physics2010 says:

    I keep getting these for rebates now, and most places reject them. Just had $10 or so expire on a card because of that. Of course thats what they count on.

    • RandomHookup says:

      They shouldn’t be rejecting them, but you have to use them in the right situation. Lots of folks here are applying them to phone bills.

  26. jake.valentine says:

    Immediately after receiving a Visa rebate card I spend it for the exact amount on a gift card from Amazon, Starbucks, Target, etc……

  27. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    When the OP got the gift card, did she get the Terms and Conditions (y’know, that booklet of legalese) along with it? It would have probably explained all the fees associated with using it – use it once and let it sit idle for a month, kiss $x goodbye etc.) Gift cards backed by credit card companies are notorious for this. Check the balance (there should be a phone number or a website you can visit to do this on the back of the card) and see how much that card is really worth. Most likely it’s worthless.

  28. brinks says:

    There are lots of good tips already given here. I think the following are most likely:

    1) The fees may reduced the available balance
    2) There may be problems validating the card when using it online (see Chasiu’s and Southern’s posts).

    Try it in a brick and mortar store WHERE THE CASHIERS ARE ACTUALLY TRAINED ON HOW TO PROCESS THESE CARDS. That may significantly reduce the available retail outlets, though. They need to know exactly how much is available on the card before they swipe it, and then only run it through for that exact amount. And they probably need to run that card first, before other methods of payment.

  29. farker says:

    You can usually use this kind of gift card at a gas station, but you usually have to bring it inside and have the clerk do it for you.

    For example, I had less than $5 on a MasterCard debit/gift card. Took it inside, got that much gas credited to my pump, and then used my normal credit card at the pump for a second transaction to fill the rest of my tank. A bit of an inconvenience, but I emptied the gift card entirely and was able to toss it afterwards.

  30. HeyApples says:

    Any well-trained retail cashier (not the first time 16 year olds) will be able to get the remainder portion off of the card. Just tell them it has a partial amount left on it. Helps to use the support number on the card ahead of time to know what that partial amount is.

  31. mbz32190 says:

    I hate dealing with these things. People always want to use them on their grocery bill, but have no idea the amount then get all pissy when I tell them they need to know the exact amount. Registers aren’t smart enough yet to figure that out. And I don’t tell them they can call the number on the back and hold up the line for 10 minutes…let em figure that out on their own. (To the people that know the balance, it takes me all of two seconds to key it in).

  32. gopena says:

    Most credit card gift cards require you register them online in order to use them online (with retailers such as amazon) so if OP has not registered the card online, most likely, it cannot be used online. Also, they fucking suck.

  33. Lucky225 says:

    1) Most online retailers check AVS billing address before they will approve a purchase, if you didn’t go to the website on the card, register a billing address and WAIT 24-72 hours before attempting to use the card online, it may have been declined for an AVS mismatch.
    2) Pending authorizations may have brought the actual AVAILABLE balance below $10
    3) Prepaid gift cards are frequently declined for CVV2 mismatches, don’t know why this happens, but when it does you’ll need the card company to ship you another card.

    • epb says:

      Agreed, that’s the problem. If you don’t register the card with your billing info, you won’t be able to buy anything online. I received a bunch of $10 gift cards through a promotion with my bank and I just use them every week when I go grocery shopping. I have to tell the cashier there’s only $10 on it each time and it works fine. Target seems to be pretty good about accepting them, too, as I’ve found tehy’re able to just deduct whatever the balance is on them without you even needing to tell them.

  34. gman863 says:

    There is another way to handle pesky MC, Visa and AMEX gift/rebate cards: Before using them for any other purchases, take the gift card(s) with the full amounts to your bank and cash advance the card balance(s).

    Although the cards may be locked out of ATM use, a cash advance is fiar game. Since it’s a gift card, there should be no cash advance fees or percentages to do this. If you have a $25 card you’ll get $25 cash.

    You WILL need your driver’s license as ID, even if you’re a regular customer at the branch. If you have more than one card you’ll be cashing out, be considerate and do it when the bank is not likely to be crowded — my experience is that each card takes about 5 minutes to cash out; if you have several you won’t make any friends with the people in line behind you.

  35. wickedpixel says:

    The best thing to do with one of these gift cards is get the money off it immediately after receiving it. A lot of these now have a web address on the back where you can manage your “account” with one option being to transfer the balance to a bank account. You can also generally bring these into your local bank branch and if you know the exact balance they can transfer it to your account as well.

  36. ajlei says:

    I work at Borders, and whenever someone brings one of those in and it is less than the total balance, it just takes off whatever’s on the card. I’ve never had an issue with small (less than $5) balances not going through.

  37. HungryGal says:

    Kate, don’t be afraid of rejection at the register. Its not your fault, you know that. Who cares what the $7/hr grocery clerk or the person in line behind you thinks? Its not like you won’t have a backup payment method available.

    I believe that sometimes when using the remaining balance of a gift card you need to use the FULL AMOUNT of it in one transaction. I thought this was for balances less than $10, but perhaps it includes $10. Possibly you are getting rejected because Visa don’t want you to have a $3 balance.

  38. Bradpick says:

    This is a problem I have seen before with prepaid Visa/MC giftcards when I worked for a restaurant. When using these cards at a restaurant, the card is automatically authorized for either 15 or 20% more than the actual bill in anticipation of a gratuity. I’m not sure what the turn around time is, but the remaining balance should be available (minus any fees) after the restaurant reconciles it’s credit card transactions. I agree with Consumerist, go straight to the horse’s mouth by calling the phone # on the card to be sure.

  39. Ben says:

    Whenever I get one of these, I just use it to buy an Amazon e-certificate in the exact amount as the balance. Sometimes I have to do the purchase a few times if the card gets rejected the first time or two, but otherwise it’s been fine.

  40. nicolaj says:

    I had the same thing happen on Amazon. The Amazon associate explained to me that Amazon automatically places a $1 temporary authorization on any transaction. So you could make a purchase for $9 with that VISA gift card, but not the full $10. You mentioned that your DVD transaction was $7 but did that include Amazon’s ship rate ($2.99 for DVDs, I believe?). If so, that explains why the card was denied – you exceeded $9 ($7 + $2.99). Call the number on your card to find out the remaining balance and then either make sure your transaction doesn’t exceed $9 with shipping on Amazon, or use up the card in a brick and mortar store or restaurant.

  41. jessjj347 says:

    The easiest way that I’ve found to use it is to make a purchase and combine payment types at a retail store that will not place holds on your card. First you have to look up your gift card balance. Then, on your next purchase, you’ll need to do a bit of math. First pay cash so that you’ll have a balance left that is equal to the amount on the gift card.

    Gift Card Balance: $10
    Purchase Total: $23.50

    First pay $13.50 in cash, and then pay the rest on the card. Should work well! Good luck :)

  42. injectsomelogic says:

    Kate, Visa gift cards are extremely frustrating (ditto for Amex). But in your case, there’s probably a simple solution. Online vendors sometimes reject gift cards because they don’t have a billing address associated with them, so vendors cannot verify that you’re in rightful possession of the card. This is probably why rejected your card. Easy fix: call Visa and have them link your address to the gift card. Once Visa links your address to the card, you can use it to make online purchases.

  43. Jimothy says:

    I just turn them into amazon gift cards and put them on my account. That way the next time I buy something, it auto deducts.

  44. libwitch says:

    You generally have to have the card ran for the exact amount of money remaining on the card (or less) – so using it online tends not to work out so well for partial payment. If you want to use it at a register, tell the cashier how much to run it for.

  45. philthedrill says:

    I had this exact issue. I received a $100 gift card and tried to buy a $100 Amazon gift card with it. Amazon locked $1 on the gift card (I specified it as a credit card transaction), and with $99 available, the card was rejected due to insufficient funds.

    Instead I got a $90 gift card, and I spent the rest at Whole Foods (where they’re very good about splitting between two cards), and I was able to spend it all. Good luck.