Q. Can I cash in gift cards I got as holiday presents? I received several for stores where I never shop.
A. For five years now, gift cards have been the most requested holiday present. But many people end up getting cards they don't want. You can try the retailer — it may or may not cash it for you. Perhaps a better bet is a website where you can sell unwanted cards or trade them for others from a preferred brand.
See also: 12 ways to avoid impulse buying.
When selling, expect to get anywhere from 70 to 92 percent of the face value of your unwanted card, depending on the popularity of the issuing retailer. Card exchange websites generally pay you by mailed check, but Plastic Jungle also offers options such as a deposit into a PayPal account. Many sites will charge a listing fee of about 5 percent of the card's value.
Through the end of January, you can use any of 400 retail-branded gift cards worth at least $25 to open an account with GoalMine, where money is deposited either in an FDIC-insured savings account, in stocks or in a mutual fund.
Another program that is not yet launched would allow for cards sold via Plastic Jungle to help pay your mortgage, utility and others bills through a partnership with ChargeSmart.
Of course, you can also regift unwanted cards to friends and family for future birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. Under terms of the federal Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009, gift cards must remain valid for at least five years after their initial purchase. But inactivity and service fees can kick in after just one year — so use your card in those first 12 months to get the full value.
State laws may offer additional protections.
You may also like: Save and schmooze at thrift stores.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer issues.