Gift cards are an almost inconceivably huge industry. Americans spent $160 billion on them in 2018 alone, which means the secondary market is both lucrative and totally overwhelming—especially right after the biggest gift-giving holidays of the year. If you have a weird gift card to sell or trade, here’s what you need to know to get the most out of it.
Before you get too excited about trade-ins, you need to know what your card is worth. Don’t go typing your PIN into random balance-checking sites, though; fraudsters love gift cards, which means there are loads of scam sites out there. Always visit the card manufacturer’s website or call the phone number on the back to check your balance accurately and safely. Sure, third-party gift card sellers verify the balance for you, but it’s good to know what you’re working with—especially if the giver is a known re-gifter.
In the United States, the legal definition of “gift card,” as well as how they may be sold and redeemed, depends on where you live. For example, California law prohibits expiration dates, but the card issuer can charge a dormancy fee if they want, so long as it’s explicitly stated on the card itself. In Maryland, card issuers can’t implement expiration dates and/or service fees until at least four years have elapsed; Massachusetts law allows expiration dates after seven years, but draws a distinction between dormancy fees (illegal) and one-time activation or cancellation fees (totally fine, if explicitly stated). In some states, gift card issuers are legally obligated to exchange a card with a low balance (usually less than five dollars) for cash, but in most, they are not. It’s complicated, is what I’m getting at. Before selling or trading anything, look up your state’s laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures website so you know what you can’t do.
Armed with your balance and a cursory understanding of Gift Card Law, you can finally make an informed decision about what the hell to do with yours. Luckily, the Internet makes it easy to swap an unwanted gift card for one you’ll actually use or sell it for cold hard cash—but how much you can get depends on where and how you sell it.
The biggest drawback to selling off gift cards is a drop in value. Third-party merchants like CardPool, CardCash, and Raise take at least fifteen percent of the card’s balance off the top, then make further deductions based on the popularity of the card and the payout method you choose; if your state laws allow dormancy or service fees, you could lose even more. Generally, though, the more popular the retailer (Walmart, Best Buy, and Target are the big three) and the slower the payout method, the higher your return will be. Listing your card for sale on a site like CardPool or Raise and waiting for a check to arrive in the mail nets you more money than selling a card for a same-day PayPal or ACH transfer.
While it may be tempting to crunch the numbers for every scenario, if you just want to get some use out of a well-intentioned but poorly executed gift, the most important thing to consider is how much it’s worth to you. If you’d rather have fifteen bucks in the bank than twenty in Starbucks cash, sell it online and get that transfer. Unspent gift cards are literally worthless, so don’t sweat the details too much—whatever gets you to use it up is the right choice.