The Best Ways to Use Your Unwanted Gift Cards

Money You Can Use Anywhere

Gift cards are always a popular choice for the holiday season, and for good reason: While simply giving cash is considered by many people to be a tacky and thoughtless gesture, purchasing a gift card at least shows that you have some idea of your recipient’s interests. Unfortunately, this thoughtful gesture doesn’t always hit the mark. The late comedian Mitch Hedberg once pointed out that when you buy someone a gift certificate, you’re essentially taking money they could have spent anywhere and turning it into money they can only use at one store. And if your aunt gave you a gift card to a retailer you don’t even like, you’re now stuck with free money that you can’t really use. The good news is that you’re not actually stuck with it, though. Several services allow you to sell or exchange your gift cards for prices approaching their real value, allowing you to turn them into money you can use anywhere. We looked at what each service offered for your gift cards and picked out the best options. Photo Credit: Getty Images


Plastic Jungle

The big kahuna of gift card exchanges, Plastic Jungle wins points for ease of use. The site pays out up to 92% of face value for gift cards with a minimum value of $25, and in instances where they require you to send in your physical card, the site will give you a prepaid shipping label. Once Plastic Jungle gets the card, you’ll get reimbursed the agreed-upon price in the form of a cashier’s check, PayPal transfer or an Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN) gift card. How much you actually get back for your card depends a lot on market forces: While gift cards for Target (Stock Quote: TGT) or Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT) fetch upwards of 90% of their actual value, a gift card for a specialty retailer like A.C. Moore will get you less than 70% of face value. A separate section of the site dedicated to buying gift cards has prices similarly dictated by market forces – don’t expect to get more than 5% off an iTunes gift card. Photo Credit: PlasticJungle.com


CardCash

One thing we like about CardCash is that the site lists in one place how much you’ll get for a gift card to each retailer. Not only does that show you how much the site will pay for your gift card, but it also gives you a sense for how popular the different gift cards are. We spoke to CardCash CEO Elliot Klier, who confirmed that the most popular cards – and thus the ones that the company will pay the most for – tend to be for large, all-purpose retailers like Amazon and Target, as well as gas cards. By contrast, the least popular ones are for spas (whose pricey services usually require an additional cash outlay on top of the gift card) and airlines (Klier explains that most people prefer to find the cheapest seat on a service like Expedia, rather than be locked into a specific airline). Of course, just because something is less valuable to the free market doesn’t mean that it’s less valuable to you. If you really want to hit the spa, you can turn a neat profit by trading in your Target gift card at close to face value and then getting a spa gift card through the site at a deep discount. Photo Credit: CardCash.com


GoalMine

GoalMine is a site that helps novice investors figure out how they can set and meet lofty savings goals, and it emphasizes that you can start with as little as $25. And that’s the case even if you don’t have $25 in cash. The site recently teamed with Plastic Jungle to implement a gift card trade-in program that allows you to deposit the value of your gift cards directly into a GoalMine account. For the first card you put in, the site will give you 150% of the value for a card up to $50, which means that you get $75 for a $50 gift card; all subsequent gift card exchanges simply deposit in your account what you would have received on Plastic Jungle. The end result is that instead of trying to find a way to spend $50 at the Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) Store, you can instead take that money and put it towards retirement, education or another financial goal. Photo Credit: GoalMine.com


CardHub

CardHub, a credit card comparison service, teamed up with GiftCards.com to offer the ability to buy and sell gift cards like the other sites we’ve listed here. But what sets CardHub apart is its Gift Card Exchange, which allows you to cut out the middle man to exchange gift cards with people in your area. You can log in with your Facebook profile and post the value of your gift card and how much you’re asking; people in the vicinity can then search by ZIP code and contact you through Facebook if they like what you’re selling. Meet them in public and you can walk off with a wad of cash that’s legal tender anywhere in the country. Photo Credit: CardHub.com


CouponTrade

It’s not just gift cards that will go unused in the wake of the holidays. If your relative got you a Groupon (Stock Quote: GRPN) for teeth whitening or yoga classes but those services don’t hold any interest for you, you don’t have to just throw it out. A number of sites let you buy and sell unused daily deals, including CouponTrade, which also acts as a secondary market for gift cards and codes. Other deal exchange sites include DealsGoRound and CoupRecoup. Photo Credit: CouponTrade.com


Swap It

While the sites listed here allow you to get cash for your unwanted card, none of them allow you to make a simple swap for another store’s gift card of equal value (unless you wanted an Amazon gift card). There are indeed a few sites that allow such exchanges to take place, including GiftCardSwapping.com and ABCGiftCards.com. But neither seems to provide a truly hassle-free experience: The former requires you to print, fill out and mail in a form specifying what cards you’re interested in swapping for, and the latter takes a significant commission from the trade. If you have your heart set on making a clean swap, you could always try posting your card on Craigslist, specifying which card you’d like to get back and crossing your fingers. But a quick look reveals that most people on the site are more interested in selling for cash, suggesting that there’s not much of a swap market happening here. If you’re looking to unload a gift card, you might as well just get cold hard cash and spend it wherever you please, even if you do lose a few bucks on the exchange. Photo Credit: craigslist.org


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