Survey: U.S. adults have more than $20 billion in unused gift cards or other leftover credits

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Gift cards are a great no-hassle present or a simple way to redeem credit card rewards, but many people are missing out on their value.

According to the most recent survey from Bankrate Credit Cards, half of U.S. adults (50 percent) currently have unredeemed gift cards or store credits, including items like airline redemption vouchers.

It can be easy to forget about the gift cards taking up space in your wallet or credits sitting unused in old accounts, but they represent value you shouldn’t let go to waste.

“Gift cards and store credits are real money, so treat them as such,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate.

Why aren’t people using their gift cards?

Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults have let a gift card expire at some point and 22 percent have lost a gift card. Over half (57 percent) have held onto an unused gift card or store credit for more than a year.

A breakdown by age and income

While millennials have the highest rate of unused gift cards or store credits at 55 percent (compared to 50 percent of Gen Z, 48 percent of baby boomers and 46 percent of Gen X), Gen Z beats every generation when it comes to losing gift cards. Thirty-three percent have lost a gift card compared to 29 percent of millennials, 21 percent of Gen X and 15 percent of baby boomers.

And the higher a person’s income, the more likely they are to let a gift card expire. Nineteen percent of those making under $40,000 annually have let a gift card expire compared to 28 percent of those with incomes between $40,000 and $80,000 and 32 percent of those making $80,000 or more per year.

The value of Americans’ unused gift cards

According to the survey, the average value of unused gift cards and store credits is $167 per person.

  • Thirty-six percent of Americans estimate the total value of their unused gift cards and store credits to be between $1 and $49
  • Twenty-two percent believe the value to range between $50 and $99
  • Twenty-one percent between $100 and $199
  • Fourteen percent between $200 and $499
  • Five percent $500 or more

Those with annual incomes of $80,000 or more have the highest average unused value of gift cards and store credits ($297), compared to $93 for those making under $40,000, $135 for those making between $40,000 and $80,000 and $104 for those who don’t know or prefer not to list their income.

As far as age goes, millennials have the highest average value of unused gift cards and store credit at $234 compared to Gen Z ($103), Gen X ($128) and baby boomers ($151).

The future of unused gift cards

Of those who currently have an unused, non-expired gift card or store credit, just over one-third (36 percent) indicate they won’t use all their gift cards or store credits, while 64 percent believe they’ll eventually use all of them. As little as 4 percent plan to spend none of their gift cards or store credits.

But the clock is ticking for those who plan to use their gift cards or credits at some point. According to the 2009 CARD Act, an issuer can charge a monthly inactivity fee (pulled from your card’s balance) on gift cards that have gone unused for a year or more. You do, though, have five years from activation until your gift card can legally expire.

If you’re unsure how long you’ve owned a gift card, contact your issuer or check your gift card balance online at sites like Gift Card Granny.

Got unused cards? Here’s what to do with them

“Gift cards don’t take up much space in a drawer, but that doesn’t mean you should let them sit forever,” says Charles H. Thomas III, financial planner and founder of Intrepid Eagle Finance.

If you have unused gift cards collecting dust in your wallet, consider turning to the resale market. According to the survey, 23 percent of U.S. adults have regifted a gift card and 8 percent have resold a gift card.

“You can sell unwanted gift cards at sites such as Cardpool.com, CardCash.com and GiftCardSpread.com,” Rossman says. “You can also buy discounted gift cards from these sites. That’s a great way to save on an upcoming purchase.”

Rossman also suggests reading up on each site’s consumer protections. Cardpool, for example, offers a one year purchase guarantee on resold gift cards. Your gift card will be valid for up to 12 months, and if you don’t use the entire balance, you can contact Cardpool for a refund (up to $1,000 per customer per lifetime).

As an alternative, Thomas suggests donating unwanted gift cards to charity.

“Your local charity of choice or a website like GiftCards4Change will be glad to accept your unwanted card,” Thomas says. “You also have the potential for a charitable tax deduction when you do this as well.”

Going forward: Is it worth it to redeem for gift cards?

If remembering to use gift cards is a pain point for you, consider skipping gift cards as a rewards redemption option altogether.

Gift cards typically offer the least bang for your buck in terms of rewards value. For example, if you were to redeem 5,000 Membership Rewards® points (earned with the American Express® Green Card) for a gift card, the value of your points would range between $25 and $50. Additionally, the length of time it takes to receive your gift card can vary based on whether your issuer offers digital versus physical gift cards.

Instead, consider redeeming your rewards for statement credit, which instantly posts to your account, or for travel. You can do so via partner transfer or direct booking when applicable, which is often the best way to maximize your value.

Methodology

Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,602 adults, including 1,312 adults who currently have an unused gift card and/or store credit. Fieldwork was undertaken on January 15-17, 2020. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally.