According to a new Bankrate survey, 73% of US adults have unused gift cards they haven’t redeemed in the last year, leaving an average total of $116 hanging out there. The problem with gift cards is if you don’t spend them in the first year, they tend to stay unspent, whether because you forget about them over time or the balance gets eaten up by inactivity fees. If you hate the idea of leaving money on the table, a yearly gift card audit will ensure you unload your unused cards once and for all.
Why you should always use gift cards right away
While there are federal protections in place that prevent gift cards from expiring for five years after they’re purchased, companies can still charge “inactivity fees” in certain states if the card isn’t used within a year. These fees usually range from $2–$5 a month, and they can be charged monthly until your gift card balance is depleted.
Moreover, there’s a matter of our habits getting the better of us, too: As The Hustle reports, 70% of all gift cards are redeemed within six months of purchase, but after a year, the redemption rate remains stagnant at 80%, with the likelihood of cards being redeemed diminishing over time. Once the cards are no longer top of mind, it seems, we all simply revert to paying with cash or credit.
So, conduct a gift card audit
If you’re serious about not letting your gift cards go to waste, you’ll need an actual plan, one that includes following the steps:
- Seek out all of your gift cards from wherever they might be hiding—your wallet, purse, your desk drawer—and assemble them in one place.
- Check each for an expiration date.
- Confirm each gift card’s balance using the website or phone number on the back of the card. Write this number down on the face of the card in Sharpie.
- Dispose of any cards with a zero balance so they don’t get mixed back in with the good ones.
- Set a calendar reminder for the end of the week or month to serve as a deadline for spending down your cards—and make it an annual reminder, so you know to do the same thing 12 months hence.
The final step is redeeming the cards with remaining value—but that can be easier said than done, especially if you have a low-value card for a retailer you don’t often frequent. With that in mind, consider these options:
- Reloading your low-value cards: If you have a bunch of cards that have only a few bucks between them, consider reloading them up to $10 or $50 and giving them away as a gift.
- Sell your cards: There are legit gift card resellers that will take your cards off your hands, albeit at a fraction of their value—their cut can be anywhere from 7%-53% of the total value of the card (depending on demand for cards from a given retailer). It’s a good option if you have no conceivable use for the card and just want some cash. This Lifehacker post will walk you through the steps.