What to do with those unused gift cards

First Posted: 1/8/2014

FRESNO, Calif. — I can’t be the only one who has been in this position: You open a gift card Christmas morning, utter your polite thank you and think, “Geez, what am I going to do with this?”

Whether it’s for a store you’d never think about shopping in or one you just don’t have in your area, the well-intended gift card — it’s the top-requested gift, after all — sometimes backfires. For my husband and me, it was a gift card from an out-of-state family member to AMC Theatres, which we don’t have near us, in Fresno, Calif.

So what do you do if you have a card you can’t use? And with so much talk of fraud lately, what else do you need to watch out for?

First, check the card online and make sure it’s valid and you know how much it’s worth, says Blair Looney, CEO and president of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California.

Target said recently that a small percentage of its gift cards weren’t properly activated. If you think you have one of them, take it to a Target customer service desk or call 800-544-2943.

If you have a gift card that you’re never going to use — even on vacation — feel free to regift it, he says. That’s perfectly socially acceptable.

Or sell it to your friends, family or co-workers. You may have to sell it for less than face value, or the person may be nice enough to give you full price.

“If you have gotten a card for the Texas Roadhouse and you’re a vegetarian, you may have somebody at work who would love to have that,” Looney says.

If none of that works, there are online exchanges, such as Gift Card Granny, Plastic Jungle, Cardpool and Gift Card Exchange Day. Some sites give you cash. Others give you credit to be spent at CVS or Best Buy.

But are these sites safe?

“You’ve got to do a little digging,” says Looney. “Some of them are legitimate and safe, and some of them operate differently than the standards established for that industry.”

Check the Better Business Bureau rating, he says. Then find the company online. Look for reviews and mentions in news stories, says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

You won’t get the full amount back if you sell a gift card. You’ll take a loss between 20 percent and 50 percent. For my $30 theater gift card, every offer I found would have taken 25 percent of the value right off the top.

There’s no clear-cut answer here. Cardpool.com has an A+ rating with the BBB, for example, but there are a lot of negative reviews out there.

As for us, we decided to regift our theater gift card. The in-laws have AMC Theatres near them in the Bay Area, and one of them has a birthday coming up.

Even if you have gift cards you can use, experts all agree on one thing: Use them quickly.

The cards’ buying power shrinks as inflation pushes prices up. And why risk losing or forgetting about it in a junk drawer?

“You don’t want to tuck it away forever,” McBride says.

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