Why and How You Should Use Unredeemed Gift Cards During the Pandemic

Alice Ly | The Smart Wallet

Each year, as much as $3 billion worth of gift cards go unredeemed, according to CNBC. Gift cards don’t expire for five years, but many people get them as gifts and forget to ever cash in. Now, more than ever, using your leftover gift cards is a great way to conserve your own money and give back.

Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, gift cards can be worth more than you’d think. If you have any cards lying around with credit still on them, here’s how you can use them to make a difference.

First things first, check the value left on your card, because some deteriorate over time. You can check with the card provider to see if you have funds remaining.

Order Out With Unredeemed Gift Cards

If you can afford it, ordering pickup or delivery from restaurants can help keep small businesses afloat. Since restaurants can’t offer dine-in service, takeout is the only way they can bring in any money. Any takeout order is helpful, so do it when you can. Plus, when’s the next time ordering out will be a public service?

Using gift cards, in particular, can actually go a long way. If a gift card is never redeemed, the business never actually makes any revenue off of it. To encourage more purchases with gift cards, some businesses are giving back in return. Chipotle, for instance, is donating 10 percent of all gift card purchases to first responders.

Not only do you save some money out of your own wallet, but you can help support small businesses and indirectly make a charitable contribution. If you need extra money for yourself, gift cards can still help others. If you can spare the card, however, you can make an impact in other ways too.

Re-gift To Workers

If you have a gift card that’s been sitting in your desk for three years, there’s probably a reason you never redeemed it. Maybe you forgot and intended to use it, or maybe it was for a store or restaurant you don’t really like. Whatever the reason, someone else could use a gift card that you might not want.

Giving unredeemed gift cards to healthcare workers, delivery drivers, or other first responders can be a great way to give back for those that are keeping the country functioning. Even something as small as a Starbucks gift card you had lying around can make a difference for a USPS driver, doctor, or nurse.

Donate, Donate, Donate 

As long as you and your family are well supplied, donating your gift cards to charitable organizations or using them to buy supplies to donate is another way to give back. GiftCards4Change allows you to donate the balance of any cards toward helping underserved communities, for example.

On the other hand, you can use Visa, American Express, or Amazon gift cards to buy supplies and donate them to those in need. Research some hospitals or non-profit groups near you and see if they accept donations. If they do, buy as much as you can with your gift card and contribute!

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to forget about unredeemed gift cards, but they have substantial value. Check your home and email account to see if you have any physical or digital gift cards left lying around. The extra money can help you, small business owners, first responders, and charities.