There are those who adore them and those who despise them. Worse, many of us who receive them on special occasions either don’t care about them or end up forgetting about them.
Unfortunately, this is the fate of the billions of dollars worth of gift cards that go unused every year.
Somewhere in a drawer, pocket, wallet, or purse, there is at least one unused gift card belonging to nearly two-thirds of American consumers. Credit Summit, an online provider of financial advisory services, has released a report indicating that at least half of consumers lose gift cards before using them.
The report says that $21 billion is still on gift cards that people have lost or are not using for other reasons. Most respondents estimated that the value of their unused gift cards was less than $200.
The data in the Credit Summit report comes from an online poll taken in December 2022 by 1,200 U.S. residents aged 16 and up. (Females made up 60% of the sample, and annual incomes varied from under $25,000 to over $150,000.)
The majority of people appreciate receiving gift cards. However, many people just keep them in a drawer for future use. Credit Summit editor Rebecca Stumpf advises, “Don’t hoard them; use them.”
She urged that if you’d been given a gift card, you should use the funds.
The average amount left on gift cards in 2018 was $175, up from $116 in 2021, according to a separate study on gift card usage.
I assumed people would spend gift cards lavishly in an environment of high inflation. CreditCards.com and Bankrate.com senior industry analyst Ted Rossman said, “I was surprised.”
In a July 2022 survey of 2,372 adults in the United States, CreditCards.com found that 47% of respondents had at least one unused gift card voucher or store credit.
To what end, then, are we not making full use of the gifts we have received?
In his opinion, “inertia is a big factor,” Rossman said. It’s not always convenient to use a gift card because the store might not be one you like or frequent.
But, he cautioned, rejecting the offer of free cash would be foolish.
They will not increase in value over time; in fact, the opposite is true due to inflation. Rossman warned that the longer gift cards are kept after they are no longer needed, the greater the chances become that they will be lost, forgotten, or the store will go out of business.
Stumpf said that if you don’t use a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express gift card within a certain amount of time, you might have to pay a fee. But a gift card can’t expire for at least five years after it was activated, and federal law limits the amount that can be charged for inactivity.
Additionally, if you received a card but would prefer not to be bothered by it, that is easily remedied as well. “There are a number of websites where you can sell or exchange them,” Rossman said.