Americans sitting on $21 billion in unused gift cards

‘Clean out the wallet, the purse, the junk drawer. This is real money.’

They may be plastic, but gift cards are real money. Americans are holding on to about $21 million worth, according to one survey.

SAN ANTONIO – Gift cards may be plastic, but they are real money. They are also buried treasure, according to a survey that found Americans are holding on to billions of dollars worth of gift cards.

Nearly half of American adults have at least one gift card, voucher, or merchandise credit just lying around unused, according to the survey done for Bankrate.com.

“Oh, I believe it,” said Victor Raga. “I don’t use gift cards. I’ll lose them.”

It’s not chump change, either. The unused stash for adults who have them is about $175. In total, it’s about $21 billion in untapped currency.

“Starbucks alone is believed to have about a billion dollars in unused gift cards,” said Bankrate.com analyst Ted Rossman. “So, this is your homework: clean out the wallet, the purse, the junk drawer. This is real money.”

Money experts advise using the cards sooner rather than later. Most don’t expire, but some do charge inactivity fees. You may also lose the card, or the store could go out of business.

If you don’t want to use the card, you have options. You can re-gift it, just be sure there is a balance, or you can give to charity.

You can also sell or trade them on any number of websites such as Raise, ClipKard and CardCash. You don’t get full value. For example, a $100 Target gift card fetches about $84 on CardCash.

The bottom line -- use it or risk losing it.

“These are not going to get more valuable over time,” Rossman said. “It’s only going to lose money due to inflation.”

With inflation squeezing budgets, finding a forgotten gift card can be a timely gift.

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About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.