Do Gift Cards Expire? Here’s What to Do with Those Unused Gift Cards
Cha-ching! You found a gift card at the back of your junk drawer. But do gift cards expire? Experts reveal how to get the most out of those funds.
You know that gift card you received for Christmas a few years ago? It’s the one you put in the back of your wallet and promptly forgot about. It’s still there, and you may be wondering if it’s still good—or do gift cards expire? According to a survey by Bankrate, nearly half of Americans have an unused gift card in their possession, with the average value at $187 per person—that’s a total value of $23 billion in unused gift cards. It’s a shocking number, especially at a time when so many people are trying to save money.
But why do so many go unused? It’s actually quite simple: “People forget about them,” says Jonathan Merry, finance expert at Moneyzine. “Cards often end up tucked away in drawers, pockets, wallets or purses, and some people lose them over time.”
So what can you do with unused gift cards—and do they expire? Whether it’s a physical gift card bought at Costco or a digital Amazon gift card, you can sell, exchange, swap, donate, regift and more. This expert-approved guide has all the information and locations you’ll need to cash in on unused funds.
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Do gift cards expire?
“The short answer is yes, gift cards can expire,” says Merry, but federal laws protect consumers regarding gift card expiration. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD Act) established rules to prevent unfair practices related to credit and gift cards. “It limits fees, expiration dates and unexpected costs associated with gift cards. [It also] ensures that gift cards must remain valid for at least five years from the date of purchase,” he says.
When do gift cards expire?
“Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years from the date of purchase or the last date money was added to the card,” says Merry. Here are some other rules established by the CARD Act.
- Dormancy fees—deductions from the total value of the gift card—cannot be charged until the card has been inactive for at least one year.
- If you’re wondering if your gift card has a dormancy fee, clear and prominent fee disclosures must be provided to consumers.
- After the first year, only one dormancy fee per month is allowed.
Some states also have additional laws in place to protect consumers. For example, in California it’s illegal to have any expiration date on a gift card. In New York, the gift card expiration limit has been extended to nine years after purchase, and laws prohibit any fees whatsoever. Make sure to check with your own state’s laws if you’re wondering, do gift cards expire?
What should you do with unused gift cards?
Maybe you received a gift card to a retailer without a storefront in your area. Or you were gifted a gift card to an ice cream shop, but you’re lactose intolerant. “If you’re sitting on a gift card you won’t use, don’t sweat it,” says Nathan Jacobs, senior researcher at The Money Mongers. “You can re-gift it, sell it for a few bucks online or even do a good deed and give it to charity.”
How do you sell or exchange gift cards?
VALERIE MACON/getty images
If you’d like to turn that unused gift card into cold, hard cash or exchange it for a store you prefer, there are websites that can help you do just that—in fact, some people even resell gift cards as a lucrative side hustle.
Founded in 2009, CardCash is an online gift card marketplace that will buy your unused gift card for up to 92% of its value, then sell it to customers at a discount. Just enter the store name and balance and get an immediate offer for your card. If you choose to sell, you can get paid via direct deposit, PayPal or a check in the mail. Or, you can trade in your gift card for another gift card on the marketplace that you do want (that’s a girl math success). Just make sure there’s a post-purchase guarantee to ensure you’re not falling for a gift card scam and the cards you’re exchanging for are legitimate.
The e-commerce platform Raise is like eBay for gift cards. You create an account and then list your unused gift card for sale. Raise will give you a suggested price, but you can raise or lower the price as you see fit. Gift cards for large retailers often sell for about 95% of their value, but Raise does charge a 15% seller fee, meaning the most you can expect to get for any gift card you sell is 85% of its value.
Cardsell is an app available for both Android and iOS that makes selling your unused gift card quick and easy. Just download the app, enter your gift card information and you’ll receive an instant offer. Accept it and the money shows up in your PayPal account within 48 hours.
If you have a physical gift card with at least a $15 balance, you can sell it to ClipKard. Enter the amount, get your offer, and if you accept it, you mail in the gift card using the prepaid USPS shipping label provided. Payment options include PayPal or a check mailed to you. You can also accrue rewards on the site to be redeemed for other gift cards.
Is it OK to regift gift cards?
If you know you won’t use a gift card but would like to pass it on to someone who would enjoy it, you can always regift it as a last-minute gift or thank-you gift. Just keep in mind regifting etiquette: Don’t regift a gift card with a partial balance, and make sure the person who gave it to you would not be offended to learn it was regifted.
Don’t have a recipient in mind? “You can share unused gift cards with others in a local Freecycle group or Buy Nothing community,” says Merry. “Additionally, there are charities that accept gift card donations, whether it’s well-known organizations like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or local charities, such as food pantries or animal rescues. These charities can use the gift cards to purchase essential items they need.”
Can you return a gift card to the retailer for cash?
“In most cases, retailers do not offer cash refunds for gift cards,” says Merry, but you should check with the retailer, as policies vary. That said, if you have used the gift card to make a purchase, and you have a small balance left over, you may be able to cash out. “Several states have cash redemption requirements for just this purpose,” says Merry. “For example, in California, this applies to balances of $10 or less.”
Additionally, if it’s a gift card you purchased and you used a credit card to buy it, you can contact your credit card company. “In certain situations, consumer protection laws may make you eligible for a complete refund,” says Merry.
What to do with an unusable gift card?
If you believe you are stuck holding an expired gift card, make sure to confirm that the gift card is actually expired. Has it been five years since it was purchased? Has your state extended gift card expirations?
If you have a gift card to a store that has since gone out of business, you may still have some options. If you bought it at a gift card kiosk at a grocery store or drug store, you can check with the store. “They might permit you to exchange the card’s value for a card at a different store,” says Merry. You can also try to use the gift card at a former competitor. “While the competing store isn’t obligated to accept the card, in some instances, stores may agree to take their competitors’ gift cards or offer you discounts in exchange for them, as a way to gain your patronage.”
If none of these approaches work, you always have the option to escalate the matter to a court or government official, says Merry. “If your card is for a small or locally owned business, you can request assistance from your state’s attorney general.”
About the experts
- Jonathan Merry is a finance expert for Moneyzine. In his more than 20 years of experience, he has helped many people navigate their individual and business finances.
- Nathan Jacobs is the senior researcher at The Money Mongers, an online community that teaches users how to navigate the world cryptocurrency. He has 13 years of experience in risk management in business and finance.