Gift cards: Stuck with one? Sell it.

Gift cards are supposed to be the easy answer for that person on your holiday list who has everything. But with $30 billion worth of cards unredeemed, there’s clearly something wrong. Here are four tips if you’re stuck with one you’ll never use – or thinking of buying one for someone else.

4.Sell unused gift cards

In this 2007 file photo, various branded gift cards are displayed at the Circle Centre Mall in Indianapolis. An estimated $30 billion gift cards have gone unused in the United States. If you're stuck with one, you can sell it. (Michael Conroy/AP/File )

That's right. You can sell gift cards you don't want. Several middlemen have popped up to handle the transaction, including CardPool.com, GiftCardRescue.com, and PlasticJungle.com. Users can also buy gift cards at these websites for a discount. “Unused gift cards have real value and shopping power that a consumer can leverage,” says Bruce Bower, CEO of PlasticJungle.com. For example: Plastic Jungle will buy a $100 Macy’s card for around $80, although prices will vary based on the day.

Don't delay

In this May 5 photo, (from left) Michael Domingo Labat, his brother Trey, and friend Jason Melerine play while their mothers wait in a food and gift card distribution line at the Breton Sound Marina in Hopedale, La. The boys are children of commercial fishermen, who were unemployed in the spring because of the BP oil spill in the Gulf. (Vicki Smith/AP/File)

Retailers make money off of gift cards by charging fees for inactivity or using a card late. Since August, the federal Credit CARD Act has prohibited retailers from charging for inactivity before one year or offering cards that expire in less than five years. Nevertheless, “the government is allowing issuers to sell cards this holiday season that list expiration dates and other terms that don’t comply with the new rules,” says Tony Giorgianni, an editor at ConsumerReports.org, the consumer watchdog based in Yonkers, N.Y.

The loophole is that those buying gift cards are notified of the card’s restrictions, but those receiving the card are usually unaware. Mr. Giorgianni believes the problem will be taken care of next year.

Buy ‘em at a discount

This 2009 file photo shows a gift card kiosk in New York. New federal rules for gift cards mean user have longer to use them and don't face as many costs up front. They'll be a popular item this Christmas, industry executives say. (Mark Lennihan/AP/File)

The average household accumulates an estimated $400 in unused gift cards over time, according to Mr. Bower of Plastic Jungle. “Gift cards will be the most popular gift this holiday season,” says Anson Tsai, CEO of CardPool.com. But why buy new when you can buy used? Sites like eBay and Craigslist offer used gift cards at a discount. To guarantee the value of the card you're buying, try a website like Plastic Jungle or Card Pool. Discounts on the cards you buy from such websites can range from a few percent to up to 30 percent.

Don’t buy ‘em at all

This 2009 photo shows The Original Gift Card. Consumer advocates say cash can be just as welcome as gift cards without the hassles and strings attached. (Business Wire/File)

Gift cards may not be the best choice, even when its aimed for that friend who’s impossible to shop for. “Don’t give gift cards,” says Giorgianni of ConsumerReports.org. "Give actual gifts instead or cash or check. Gift cards are just like cash or check, except that they come with strings attached."

If you do buy one for a friend, make sure it's good at a store that they shop at often and that they will use it before it starts to lose value. “Gift cards may be pretty with pictures of kitties and whatnot, but those portraits on greenbacks – presidential and otherwise – are as pretty as anything we’ve seen on gift cards,” he adds.