We want gift cards and like to give them, but for some reason we don’t always use them and wind up wasting billions of dollars.
A recent poll by Consumer Reports, for instance, found that one-quarter of people who received a card as a holiday gift last year still haven’t used it, and more than half of those had two or more unredeemed cards.
This has spawned an online secondary market where gift-card exchange sites, such as PlasticJungle.com, Cardpool.com, MonsterGiftCard.com and GiftCardRescue.com, help consumers buy and sell unwanted retail gift cards at a discount. Sellers can get around 70 to 90 percent of the value of their cards.
“It at least gives consumers the option to get something for an unused gift card,” said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports. “It’s like life support for unwanted gift cards.”
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Gift-card sales were expected to reach a record $100 billion last year, up nearly 10 percent from the year before, according to TowerGroup, a research and advisory firm. About $2 billion of that, though, will be lost through fees and expired, stolen or misplaced cards.
The losses were much worse before federal protections kicked in last year that, among other things, prevent cards from expiring within the first five years.
Washington state bans expiration dates on gift cards, with certain exceptions, such as cards issued for promotions and charities, and those issued by financial institutions.
So if you’re stuck after the holidays with cards you don’t want, here’s some advice for getting rid of them:
Don’t spend, invest: The most innovative use of unwanted gift cards this season goes to GoalMine, which caters to small investors by helping them set goals and begin investing for as little as $25.
Between Dec. 19 and the end of January, GoalMine is accepting unwanted gift cards with values of $25 and up that will be sold at PlasticJungle.com, a card-exchange site. Consumers decide whether to deposit the proceeds in an FDIC-insured savings account or in a stock or bond mutual fund.
As a further incentive, GoalMine promises to redeem the first card for 150 percent of its value. The card can’t be worth more than $50.
Gift-card exchanges: These middleman websites for consumers wanting to buy, sell or swap cards have been growing. PlasticJungle, one of the major players, bought and sold cards worth about $18 million last year, three times the amount of the year before, said Chief Executive Bruce Bower.
Sites deal in gift cards from hundreds of national retailers, so you likely won’t be able to sell a gift card from a local shop. Cards usually must have a value of $20 or $25 still on them.
Sellers send their cards to the exchange, which verifies the value.
If you’re going to buy or sell on one of the exchange sites, check out more than one. CardHub.com has a gift card exchange feature that aggregates card deals from various sites.
Consumer Reports’ Marks, who researched gift-card exchanges earlier this year, says no single site gave the best deal every time.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.