Money

5 Easy Ways to Get More From Gift Cards

If you're not following these tips, you're missing out on some serious cash.

If you’re among the 73 percent of us who received a gift card over the holidays, read on for expert advice on how to get the biggest bang from your plastic buck!

Go Shopping Now

A staggering $1 billion in gift cards goes unredeemed every year! To make sure yours isn’t one of them: “Use gift cards as soon as possible,” urges Shelley Hunter of GiftCards.com. “The longer you hold on to them, the more likely you are to forget about them.” Another reason to spend your gift card quickly? “The issuing store could go out of business or change ownership, rendering the card moot.” Bonus: You’ll stretch your dollar by using it now, thanks to post-holiday sales. That’s key since gift card users are twice as likely to pay full price for purchases, owing to a psychological quirk that makes gift cards feel different from “real” money, spurring us to spend more freely.

Keep ‘Em Just In Case

After using a gift card or an e-gift card, hold on to it — even if it’s empty— until you’re sure you’re keeping your purchase. Return policies for store gift cards vary from retailer to retailer. Walmart, for example, issues refunds to the same Walmart gift card used to buy the item. Bank-issued gift cards (such as American Express, MasterCard and Visa) can also make returns tricky since some stores require refunds to be applied to the card you used. Says Hunter, “Just ask the cashier about returns so you know your options and can ensure money isn’t put back onto a card you no longer have.”

Trade Cards for Cash

If you don’t plan to use your card, you can sell it for good old-fashioned cash. Just keep in mind that not all websites buying gift cards are legit. To ensure you’re selling to one you can trust, “look for an online gift card reseller that offers a money-back guarantee, customer service and convenient payment options,” advises Hunter. A few options: CardKangaroo.com, CardPool.com and Raise.com. Have a small balance on a bank-issued card that you don’t know what to do with? You can transfer any sum of 50 cents or more to your Amazon account to apply toward future purchases. Just log in to your Amazon account, click “Gift Cards,” then “Reload Balance” and enter your card’s information—the balance will be applied automatically.

Score Bonus Gift Cards

Whip Out Your Smartphone: Many companies will “pay” you with gift cards for super-easy tasks you won’t mind doing, such as taking quick surveys (SurveyJunkie.com and YouGov.com) and snapping photos of “help wanted” signs (JobSpotter.Indeed.com). Sign up for free at these apps and websites, and you’ll start earning today.

Swap ‘Surprise’ Points: You know that credit card issuers often let you redeem miles for gift cards. What may surprise you: If you’ve earned points from an airline, hotel or Amtrak, you may be able to swap them for gift cards too! Learn more at Points.com.

Trade in Old Gadgets: If you’ve got a cellphone, tablet or other device you no longer use, you can trade it for a store gift card in person at your local Best Buy and Target. Your gadget will be appraised, and you’ll be sent an offer. If you accept it, you’ll get a gift card for that amount!

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

We write about products we think our readers will like. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the supplier.  

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