Ben’s Bargains Complete Guide to Managing Gift Cards
Yet another holiday season has passed and many Americans have a new stack of gift cards to spend during post-holiday sales or throughout the year. Gift card spending reached an all-time high during 2013, hitting nearly 30 billion in total sales, and the average shopper spent about $163 on gift cards over the holiday season according to the National Retail Federation.
But what do you do with all those gift cards? Read on to find out:
Gift Card Basics
According to Ben’s 2014 Gift Card Study of approximately 2,300 online shoppers, over 70 percent of the respondents received at least one gift card during the holiday season. In addition, more than a third of respondents received three or more gift cards during the holiday season.
After you receive a gift card, there are a number of simple steps you should take in order to properly manage your newly received gift.
- Make a copy. If you are prone to misplacing gift cards, make a copy if you have a scanner / printer. If you do not have that hardware on hand, simply write down the gift card number and issuer’s toll-free number on a piece of paper. You could also take a photo of the card if you have a digital camera or smartphone. If for any reason that the card is lost, you will have a record in order to complete a purchase.
- Read the terms and conditions. Not always found on the actual gift card, the terms and conditions outline restrictions, usage fees, expiration dates and time decay rate on the card. While many major retailers are lenient on these restrictions, major issuers of cash cards (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa) can charge a fee for use after an expiration date on the actual card.
- Check the balance before going shopping. The vast majority of retailers have online tools that allow gift card owners to check the balance of their card. In addition, the company will include a toll free number to check the same information. I like to check balances every few months, mostly because it acts as a reminder to utilize the card for purchases. I also recommend checking your Target gift cards immediately, due to the recent activation issues affecting more than 40,000 cards purchased over the holiday season.
Managing Several Gift Cards
Another interesting fact from our recent study: over 45 percent of the respondents have lost a gift card at least once and nearly one fourth of all respondents have lost gift cards on multiple occasions. Regarding monetary value, approximately 40 percent of the respondents received gift cards this year totaling at least $100 and 10 percent breaking $250 in total value.
With such a large volume of cards being given each year, here are a few tips to help you better manage large quantities of gift cards:
- Register your gift card. Usually a feature found on an online retail site, you can log into your account and apply the gift card immediately instead of waiting for a purchase. This is an ideal way to get the gift card ready for use without actually using it. If the card is limited to a brick & mortar location, it’s possible that the retailer could still allow you to register the card in case of theft or loss.
- Turn multiple cards into one card. Some retailers offer gift card transfer options, specifically those that are limited to brick & mortar locations like restaurants. Starbucks, for instance, will allow you to transfer balances between gift cards as long as you have the gift card number and the security number (usually has to be scratched to be viewed). This is ideal if you received multiple gift cards for the same store, but don’t want to carry around all of them.
- Look into smartphone app storage. There is an app available for both iOS and Android called Gyft. This application will allow you to store all your gift cards in one place, your smartphone. Rather than carrying all those cards around in your wallet or purse, the card information will be brought up on screen for use in a store. In turn, cards uploaded to Gyft can be added to Apple’s Passbook application for easy access with other cards like rewards cards.
What to do with Unwanted Gift Cards
When we asked our users about what gifts they dislike receiving each year, over 20 percent of respondents said that they do not like receiving gift cards. It’s likely that some people simply don’t like the impersonal nature of gift cards and others aren’t interested in the retailer. Of course, there are plenty of ways to get rid of gift cards in order to get something you actually want. Here are some ideas:
- Sell your gift cards. In addition to auction sites like eBay, there are sites specifically dedicated to purchasing gift cards and are somewhat easier to deal with than the auction process. Utilizing sites like CardPool, Raise and GiftCardGranny, you can sell your gift card for 50 to 90 percent of the total gift card value very quickly. People that use these services are typically paid cash through a Paypal transaction. However, be aware that eBay auctions are typically between 80 to 95 percent of the value of the card, but you will have to deal with additional eBay fees.
- Donate your gift cards. If you simply don’t need the gift cards or the cash value, consider donating the cards through a service like DonorsChoose, TheGivingEffect or your favorite local charity. Many nonprofits will accept gift cards in order to pay for needed items, like clothing or food for a homeless shelter. Think of it as a more honorable form of regifting. These donations are also tax-deductible, assuming you itemize those deductions during tax time.
- Convert your gift cards. Interestingly, some retail establishments will allow you to convert your unwanted gift cards into reward points, airline miles or other gift cards. Examples of these retail partnerships can be found on PlasticJungle at the moment. For instance, CVS allows you to convert another retailer’s gift card into a CVS gift card. The same goes for United airline miles and Best Buy reward points. If you received one of those prepaid Visa or MasterCard gift cards, a Reddit user discovered you can convert it into Google Wallet funds and use a physical Google Wallet card to withdraw those funds from an ATM.