You got a gift card you don't want. Now what?

 Don't let an unwanted gift card go to waste. When you open that less-than-perfect gift, grin and bear it. Then explore these options.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File
Sears gift cards on display inside a department store in Garden City, New York

Maybe you have impeccable taste in clothing that’s nearly impossible to pinpoint. Or maybe you’re the person who already has it all. Regardless, even the best gift givers can get it wrong, and sometimes a gift card just misses the mark.

So what do you do with gift cards you don’t want? Or what happens when you spend a portion of your gift card but don’t know what to do with the rest?

You don’t have to let them go to waste. When you open that less-than-perfect gift, grin and bear it. Then explore these options.

Exchange it online for one you do want

Timm Walsh, board chair of the Retail Gift Card Association, says that more often than not, gift givers won’t let you down. But if they do, consumers have a few options when they’re left with a card they don’t want.

“You can donate it,” Walsh says. “You can donate gift cards just like you donate anything else. Or now we’re seeing these exchange sites that you can actually go and swap it out for another card that you might find value in or have more of an appeal for.”

Gift card exchange sites are just that — websites where consumers can buy and sell gift cards. One site is Gift Card Granny, which promises to save shoppers significant amounts on discount gift cards when they buy and get up to 92% of their cards’ value back when they sell. Here, you can list your unwanted or partially used gift card for sale or shop around for a discounted card from someone else. Similarly, at Cardpool, gift cards can be purchased for up to 35% off or sold for up to 92% cash back.

Selling, exchanging or purchasing a card is convenient, but you should always read up on a site before transacting. Some ads from private sellers on sites like Craigslist promise fully loaded cards and deliver empty or mostly used ones instead.

Walsh says it’s essential to look for a post-purchase guarantee to ensure cards are legitimate. Online shopper Michael LaGarde Jr. from Louisiana knows that firsthand. He says he uses gift card exchange sites frequently, and when he once received a card that didn’t work, the exchange site thankfully had a guarantee. It refunded his purchase within 48 hours.

In addition to a guarantee, the RGCA recommends taking these precautions as well: Read up on the fine print to see how quickly you’ll be paid for a sale. Exchange sites may have lengthy payout periods. And avoid buying from or selling to unknown or private online sellers.

Trade it in at the store

Don’t want to hassle with online swapping? You may be able to exchange your card at the store, too. You could try Target, for instance.

“Target offers a gift card trade-in program that allows guests to bring in an unwanted or unused third-party gift card to the Mobile kiosk in our stores and exchange it for a Target GiftCard,” says Target public relations spokesperson Megan Boyd. “There are hundreds of card types eligible for exchange; based on the gift card a guest brings to trade, we’ll make an offer on a new Target GiftCard that they can accept or decline.”

Cards must have a minimum balance of $20 and must be one of Target’s currently accepted cards, Boyd says. Accepted brands include everything from American Airlines to Zumiez. Consumers can visit Target’s trade-in program website to find a participating store.

If you’re not a Target shopper, Coinstar has a Coinstar Exchange program through which customers can sell their gift cards at kiosk locations within grocery stores. The program accepts gift cards from more than 150 stores and will make you an offer in the form of a voucher, which can be redeemed for cash. Like at Target, gift cards must have a minimum balance of $20.

Keep the change

Gift cards can often leave us stuck between a rock and a hard place. Use up the entire card, and you may end up shelling out more than you bargained for. An impressive 72% of customers will spend more than the value of their gift card, according to On average, recipients spend 20% more than the value of their card.

But spend just under the amount of the card, and you feel like your remaining $1.22 has gone to waste.

In some states, when you leave dollars and cents on the card, you can cash it in for cold, hard cash. For instance, in California, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, “effective January 1, 2008, any gift certificate with a cash value of less than $10 is redeemable in cash, which includes currency or check, for its cash value.” Check to see whether your state has a similar law. If it does, you should be able to ask a retailer for the remaining balance in cash if it’s under the threshold.

A few tips about giving gift cards

Whether you choose to sell your card or trade it in, the above tips can get you out of a pinch. But before long, you’ll likely turn from a gift recipient to a gift giver. Gift cards have been the most requested holiday gift for nine years running, according to a 2015 National Retail Federation holiday survey.

Avoid placing your friends and family in a precarious gift card position by selecting your gifts carefully. Aside from opting for a store you know they like, here are some other trusty gift card tips from the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Take the financial situation of the retailer into account. If a business files for bankruptcy, the gift recipient may be left in limbo.
  • Give the receipt along with the gift card so the receiver has verification of the purchase.
  • Read the fine print. And, as the FTC notes, “if you don’t like the terms and conditions, buy elsewhere.”

Just don’t forget about them

When you finally land on a gift card that you want to keep in your possession, use it wisely. Many consumers forget they got the card in the first place.

“Put some urgency around it,” Walsh says. “Obviously, if you got it as a gift, it’s somewhat free money to you as the recipient. Go and treat yourself. Don’t sit on it. Don’t put it in a drawer.”

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @courtneynerd.

This article first appeared in NerdWallet.

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