What to Do With Unwanted Gift Cards

Geoff Williams

Like fruitcake, unwanted gift cards have become something of an unpleasant holiday tradition. It's understandable that not every gift card will hit its mark. Maybe you received a gift card to a hardware store but aren't a DIYer, or to a fast-food chain but you're trying to eat healthier. These unwanted gift cards may go into a desk drawer and be forgotten for years -- or expire. Which is a shame.

Can You Return Gift Cards?

Like unwanted gifts, consumers can sometimes return unwanted gift cards to the stores where they were purchased and get the money back. But as you would expect, the answer is often no.

"Retailer policies differ on the return of store gift cards," says Bethany Hollars, a spokesperson for BrickSeek, a price-checking website.

"Some retailers won't accept their return at all, whereas others will only issue store credit in their place, which basically means you end up with a second gift card," Hollars says. "Some stores, such as Target, will accept gift card returns so long as they are unused and you have the original purchase receipt, which can make for an awkward conversation if you received the gift card as a, well ... gift. Your best bet is to read the retailer's return policy to see if this is a viable option."

[READ: 10 Best Online Outlet Stores That Save You Money.]

Instead of letting them go to waste, here are four more options for your unwanted gift cards:

Regift Your Gift Cards

This may be a great way to save on birthday gifts -- or holiday gifts when the season comes around again.

"If there's someone in your life who you know would use the gift card, save yourself some money come Christmastime by regifting the card to them. This saves you money right off the top by eliminating one entry from your holiday shopping list," Hollars says.

Sell or Trade Gift Cards Online

Lots of websites will buy gift cards for close to their face value, Hollars says. "Compare the offer prices from several sites, such as Raise, Cardpool, CardCash, and Gift Card Granny, to ensure you're getting the highest price for your card," Hollars says. "Most of these sites will also let you trade the gift card instead, in exchange for a retailer gift card that you will actually use. Don't forget sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace, where you can often sell gift cards for just a few dollars below their face value."

Here are some of the top websites where you can sell unwanted gift cards:

CardCash. With CardCash, you can sell gift cards or you can trade them for a certificate to a retailer where you do want to shop. As for the selling part, what you earn for your gift card will vary. For example, for a $25 Target card, you can expect to receive an offer for around $20. Generally, you can receive up to 92% of the card's value. You'll never get the full 100%.

Cardpool. With Cardpool, you can exchange unwanted gift cards and be paid in cash or in Amazon gift cards. The site will not accept a card that's worth less than $15. You'll receive up to 88% of the card's value. The Cardpool website lists the cards that it accepts. There are a lot, but you probably won't be able to sell a gift card to a regional store or restaurant.

GiftCash. Like other sites for selling gift cards, with GiftCash you simply type in the card that you want to sell and how much it's worth, and you get an offer. Generally, if it's a gift card to a popular store like Target or Best Buy, you'll probably get most of what the card is worth -- somewhere in the high 80% range or low 90s. It accepts cards with a minimum value of $25 and will go as high as $2,500.

Raise. Unlike other sites on this list, with Raise, you are the one -- not the website -- who sets the price of your gift card. It's free to list your card, and if somebody purchases it, you'll give a 15% commission to the site. You can sell gift cards with partial balances, but any physical gift card has to have at least $10 on it. An eGift card needs to have at least $5 on it. All gift card balances must be under $2,000.

[Read: 15 Creative Ways to Save Money]

Donate Gift Cards

CardCash will accept your unwanted gift cards -- and donate the money (minus its commission) to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

You also may want to check out CharityGiftCertificates.org/gce/. It also takes a portion for administrative costs, but it's a nonprofit, so that may not bother you.

GiftCardBank.org is another nonprofit (started during the pandemic) that specializes in helping people in financial distress.

You could also check with a local church, school or shelter and ask if it could use your gift card.

[Read: New Rules for Charitable Giving]

Sell What You Buy With Gift Cards

"A last resort," Hollars says, "would be to use the gift card to purchase an item that you can then turn around and resell for close to the same amount, or hopefully more, than the face value of the card. If you think you can find an item that will turn a profit, this might be a better option than selling the card online at a small loss."

It's a clever idea. But probably not a great idea if we're using a restaurant gift card, however.