Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” (and gift cards).

Gift cards are a frequent go-to gift for last-minute shoppers or habitual options used for that hard-to-buy-for recipient. But what if you forget about it and leave it in the sock drawer for a year or two, or it’s for a store you don’t shop with? According to a report on CNN, Americans have roughly $21 billion tied up in unused and lost gift cards! That equates to about $175 per person in card balances. How might you take advantage of unused gift card balances? Thankfully, we have answers for these post-Christmas social quandaries.

Treat it Like Cash

Ever think about your gift cards as free money? That’s essentially what they are, albeit in card form. With this mindset, you’ll be less likely to drop your card into a random drawer or stuff them forgotten in your wallet. Rather than allowing your gift card to fuel impulse shopping, take some time to think about what you’d like to purchase with it. The longer you hold onto your card, the more likely you’ll forget about it. If you’re waiting to use them for a special occasion or a sale, write reminders for yourself on your calendar.

Snapping a photo of your gift card’s barcode and PIN can also come in handy if you misplace it or don’t want to keep track of your physical card. While a digital copy may not work in person at a store or restaurant, it can allow you to purchase items online.

The Federal CARD Act

If you’ve found (or forgotten) an old gift card, you’ll be happy to hear this bit of news. The CARD Act, also known as the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act, took effect in February 2010. This act not only covers credit cards, but gift cards as well. Rules regarding gift cards include that they cannot expire before five years from the date of purchase. This is handy should you (or one of the grandkids) lose the card shortly after the holidays. If it’s found again relatively soon, it should be able to be used without a hitch. The good news? No inactivity fees are applied to the card for twelve months from the date of purchase. However, fees diminish the card redemption value after twelve months, eventually wiping out the entire gift for nominal gift amounts on $5 or $20 card balances, therefore, it’s always best to use gift cards sooner rather than later. If you happen to find one tucked away somewhere from bygone holiday seasons, be sure to check the balance on the card before you go shopping.

Rules and Regulations

Varying rules and regulations regarding gift cards can differ from state to state. Some states have their own rules that differ from the rest of the country. For instance, some of these rules include disclosing the fee amount that’s whittled away from the balance on the card.

There is also a possibility that you, or someone you’ve gifted a card to, might not want the card for any given store. What do you do in cases like these? Thankfully, there are reputable gift card exchange sites like or, a marketplace option. Keep your expectations low when utilizing these sites. Expect to net between 60-85% based on the retailer, with more popular brands resulting in higher resale values.

If reselling a card is uncomfortable, consider regifting the card to someone else. By contrast, donate your unused card balance to online charity sites, such as Charity Choice, which allows you to support a charity of your choosing and provides you with a tax-deductible donation receipt for your card’s value.

Whether you use, lose, regift, or give it away, gift cards retain their value for about five years after purchase. There are options to ensure that unwanted or unneeded gift cards do not remain unused. However, you’ll also want to be mindful of using (or gifting) your cards as soon as possible rather than holding on to them, as many businesses in our current economic environment are going out of business. Bed Bath & Beyond, we’re looking at you.

At Organized Instincts, our team of daily money managers will help you navigate the gift card extravaganza. Schedule a chat today.

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