How to finish off gift cards

If you’ve ever owned gift cards, you’ve probably encountered this issue.  You use your gift card as intended until you have something like two dollars and 16 cents left on the card.  For merchant gift cards, that’s hardly enough to warrant another trip to the store, and for bank gift cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) it’s a difficult amount to use at all.

The key to finishing off a gift card is different for bank cards than for merchant cards, so I’ve separated the advice below.  Please chime in with your own suggestions and I’ll update this post as warranted.

Remember to use an app like GoWallet to check your card balances when you’re on the go.  See “GoWallet.com simplifies your gift card life.”

Bank Gift Cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express)

Caution: Some merchants will put a $1 (or higher) hold on your gift card to verify the card before charging the full amount.  Unfortunately, this means that when buying a $100 item with a $100 gift card, the charge may be denied because of the additional $1 hold.  Worse, you may think that the card is used up when there is really some money still available (under hold).  Usually the hold will go away in a few days and the funds will become available again.  Gas stations (at the pump) and hotels typically put larger holds on cards so be careful about trying to use gift cards in those situations.

In person / automated: Many stores have smart card registers that automatically use up the remaining credit on your gift card when the total checkout amount is more than the card’s value.  When checking out of a store like this, swipe your gift card and the register will automatically empty the card and will adjust the amount still owed accordingly.  Next, pull out a regular credit card (or another gift card) to pay for the remainder.  Put the gift card in your pocket and when you get home double check that the balance is really down to zero.  Then, toss it out.  I’ve had success with this approach at many stores including Target, Whole Foods, and Lowes.

In person / split payment: Most stores and restaurants will let you split your purchase.  If you know the exact amount left on your card, ask them to charge that amount to your gift card and the rest to another card.  If you’re at a gas station, go inside to pay and do this trick there.

At restaurants, DavidAL reports that “a lot of the GC companies (Am Ex, Visa, etc.), will only allow you to charge 80% of the balance of the GC to the bill, because they assume the other 20% will be the tip.  So if you have a $100 GC, and if it won’t go through the restaurant POS for $100, tell them to charge $80, and you can leave the other $20 as tip.”

Online / split payment: In my experience it is rare for online vendors to allow split payments, but some do.  One example I encountered recently is the Sony store.

Online / prepay: Some utilities (phone, cable, electric, gas, etc.) allow credit card payments.  Usually, you can submit a payment at any time so you may be able to log-in and make a one time payment of the odd amount left on your gift card.  Your next bill should be adjusted accordingly.

Online / gift cards:  Some merchants, like Amazon.com, allow you to buy eGift cards for any amount you specify.  If your gift card has been activated and registered with your full name and address, then you can use the remaining balance to buy yourself a gift card.  With Amazon.com the eGift card can then be loaded as credit onto your account and will be used automatically for future purchases.

Send money: I have this one in red because I don’t recommend it.  Some people cash out gift cards through services like Amazon Payments, Venmo, PayDivvy, etc.  While this technically works, there is a risk of getting your account flagged if you do it often.  This activity looks suspiciously like illegal money laundering.

Pay yourself: Another option I don’t recommend is to use a service like Square.  Square lets people take credit card payments for a fixed 2.75% fee.  As with the send money options, there is a very real risk of getting your account flagged if you do it often.

Merchant Gift Cards

Sell: An easy option for liquidating your merchant gift cards is to sell them via services like PlasticJungle or Cardpool.  GiftCardGranny.com is a good place to find which reseller will pay you the best price for your balance.  If you then go through a site like TopCashBack to PlasticJungle or Cardpool you have a chance to get even more money for your sale.  Note that for most gift cards you will get between 60% and 90% of its value through a sale like this.  I don’t recommend selling on EBay: EBay has decent fraud protections for buyers, but much less for sellers.

Update: New Girl in the Air reminds me that PlasticJungle and Cardpool only accept gift cards with balances of $25 or more.

Live in or visit California: Several States have laws in which merchants must allow customers to cash out their gift cards when under a certain balance.  In California, any gift card containing less than $10 qualifies.  Other States have $5 thresholds including: Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Washington.  Look for your State’s rules here: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/banking/gift-cards-and-certificates-statutes-and-legis.aspx

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  1. Does anyone know a site that will buy iTunes gift cards? It seems that Cardpool, Plastic Jungle and Coupontrade no longer take them. Thanks!!

    • Quig69: iTunes cards are hard to sell. Apparently they are easily counterfeited. You could try selling on CouponTrade. If you start at TopCashBack you supposedly get $2.50 extra from each sale, but it my experience the payout to TopCashBack from CouponTrade is unreliable.

  2. I recently ran into a problem. I tried to convert the hundred dollar balance on a Visa gift card (I know, I know) to $100 in an Amazon gift card. Being that it was a new credit card, Amazon pulled a $1 charge to verify the transaction, then denied my purchase for insufficient funds because there were only 99 dollars left. I transferred the $99 to Kiva, and now am trying to figure out what to do with $1 on the card once Amazon’s “pending” debit is lifted. I’ll probably just give it to Kiva, hoping they don’t charge a fee and accept a small amount, but suggestions are welcome.

    • harvson3: Ah, I forgot to mention the $1 hold issue. I need to update the post again! I wonder if Amazon only does the hold for purchases over a certain amount? You might be able to send yourself a $1 Amazon gift card. Of course, you would risk having the hold stick on there for another few days… If you try that, let me know how it goes. I think you would be fine with adding the money to your Kiva account as long as you don’t do that often (same issue as with schemes for sending money)

  3. I have a number of bank gift cards where the bank has either gone bankrupt or has been bought by another bank in Mexico.
    Others have been bought by BoA and they refuse to pay.

  4. I always cash out bank cards at Trader Joes – the cashiers all seem to know how to do it, and they never have a problem with me saying “I have $2.42 left on this prepaid Visa card, so can you charge me that first?” They must have been trained on splitting purchases.

  5. My way to use up bank gift cards with small balance is to buy amazon gift cards in grocery stores and pay with gift cards first and pay the remainder with a credit card. I like to use self-checkout lanes so I can use as many gift cards as I want and nobody gets annoyed.

  6. For those of us in California, you can cash out any gift card that has a balance of $10 or less. Since the cashiers don’t check id, it may be possible for nonresidents to do the same. So if you’re a nonCA resident and visiting CA for say, the FTU in LAX, bring those $10 or less gift cards and try it. :)

  7. You should also update the post to say that if you’re going to use the GC at a restaurant (sit-down with waiter, not fast food), a lot of the GC companies (Am Ex, Visa, etc), will only allow you to charge 80% of the balance of the GC to the bill, because they assume the other 20% will be the tip. So if you have a $100 GC, and if it won’t go through the restaurant POS for $100, tell them to charge $80, and you can leave the other $20 as tip.

    • DavidAL: Thanks for the tip. I updated the post.

      Debbie Schroeder: Yep!

      Roger: Thanks for the tip. It is probably risky if done too often, but could be a great option for occasional use.

  8. My internet provider (Centurylink) accept multiple cards. Its a great way for me to use my GC until the last cent.

  9. I just used Amazon to clear out a $.69 balance on one card and $1.49 on another Visa prepaid card. I bought gift cards with them and there was no “hold” placed on any amount. Then I used the combined value towards a $3.80 battery I needed to order from Amazon! Thanks for the information…otherwise these might have gone to waste!

  10. I had an Amazon hold on a $65 gift card purchase. I haven’t had any holds on $25-$35 range purchases. Based on this I’m guessing the threshold for a Amazon hold is $50.

  11. I have cashed out giftcards in California on multiple occasions. Its a little time consuming if you have alot of cards, but if its a store with self serve kiosks, you can do it yourself.

  12. I just went to the gas station with my Visa gift card. It had $50.51 left on it. I started pumping gas, and when it got to $50.25 the pump started slowing down and shut off exactly at $50.51. That was easy. I didn’t know that would happen.

  13. I usually employ one of three methods:

    A) If the balance is under say $5 I will usually find either an old lady or a woman with a small child and just give it to them. Granted this is not fiscally responsible but it makes me feel good.

    B) If I know I’m going to go to the store again I put the card in my glove compartment and wait until I return and do a split purchase which almost every merchant will allow.

    C) If the balance is high and I know I won’t be returning to the place I’ll try to sell it in the store at a discounted rate usually to the person directly behind me in line.

    Nice to see that there are other options as you’ve outlined especially the buying gift cards with gift cards which truthfully I didn’t know was an option.

  14. watch out the GULF gas cards: twice my balances disappeared when the attendant walked away IT IS VERY HARD TO GET THE BALANCES BACK

  15. I have a visa gift card with $0.77. How do I cash out. I usually get rid of small amounts paying to my cell phone bill but its not accepting i think cause it’s too small. what do i do?

    • tina: Simply bring the card with you the next time you shop at a big store like Kroger, Target, Whole Foods, etc. When you buy something, swipe that card first and the register will automatically deduct the full amount left on the card and then ask you for another form of payment for the rest.

  16. Glad I came here, I never thought about using the remaining balance to purchase an Amazon gift card for myself. I wasn’t aware you could enter any amount you want. Thanks for helping me use up my $3.52!

  17. i searched the world over, and found the solution here…… that buy yourself an amazon giftcard was pure genius.

    thanks.

  18. I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something that too few men and women are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I came across this in my hunt for something regarding this.

  19. Yes, one day, I made a purchase at Home Depot using HD gift card. I received nice cash $9, because HD gift card balance was less than $10.

    I also found out my home utility online payment receives ANY visa/mastercard amount without any $1 hold. I paid my last utility bill using three different visa debit cards