The entire U.S. adult population’s unused gift cards, vouchers and store credits come to a grand total of about $21 billion. Use them now — before you lose out.
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Gift cards are enormously popular for a number of reasons. You can purchase them in just about any increment and redeem them either for cash or for products and services at a wide variety of retailers. As the recipient, you may have the option to use a plastic card or an electronic code.
But although gift cards are easy and convenient, millions of dollars on them go unused every year. According to a new CreditCards.com study conducted by YouGov.com, 47 percent of U.S. adults have at least one unused gift card, voucher or store credit.
With inflation making it harder for many consumers to make ends meet, finding a gift card (or two) with a balance ready to spend can be a huge relief.
You (may) have money
According to the survey, the average amount of unspent gift cards, vouchers and store credits is $175 per person, up from $116 last year. In aggregate, that’s a total of roughly $21 billion in unspent cash for the entire U.S. adult population.
If you’re a young adult, be particularly careful to check your pockets and messages for overlooked gift cards. Fifty-two percent of millennials and 51 percent of Gen Zers are likely to have unused ones hanging around. That doesn’t mean older people are unlikely to have these gift cards gathering dust, however. Forty-three percent of Gen Xers and 42 percent of boomers also have them.
Not only is it exciting to have this kind of extra cash on reserve, the available sums can be substantial. On average, millennials have the most available cash on gift cards, at $226. Gen Xers have $180, GenZers have $149 and boomers have $133 ready to spend.
Now is the time to use these gift cards, says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “With inflation at a 40-year high, everyone is looking for ways to save money,” he says. “Putting your unused gift cards to work is an easy way to unlock some hidden value.”
Statistically, income matters
The odds of you having unclaimed funds on a gift card correspond with your income level. According to the survey, if you’re in the lowest earning bracket, the less likely you are to have unclaimed money.
Forty-one percent of Americans with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 have gift cards ready to use. That likelihood increases with annual household income. Fifty-three percent of people earning between $50,000 to $79,999 have unused gift cards, while 57 percent of those earning between $80,000 to $99,999 do. There’s a slight drop in the highest earning group, with 56 percent of people with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more having at least one unused gift card.
Income also dictates the size of the gift card credit. Among those with unused gift cards, those with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 have an average of $128 waiting to be spent. And $165 is due to people earning between $50,000 to $79,999, while $227 is due to people earning $80,000 to $99,999 and $265 is due to those who make $100,000 or more.
Gift card holders say they will use them in a year
The survey also discovered that 45 percent of people who have unused gift cards say they will use all of them within the next 12 months. Others will wait it out, with 30 percent saying they will use most of their cards and 16 percent planning to use a few. The remaining 9 percent say they will keep all of their gift cards.
These numbers change with age. Older people say they will be cashing in their gift cards soon, with 55 percent of boomers and 46 percent of Gen Xers planning on taking all their cards out shopping within the next year. Forty percent of millennials say they will, but just 33 percent of Gen Zers plan on using all of their unused cards over the next 12 months.
Intentions, though, don’t always pan out. The survey also found that 71 percent of those with unused gift cards have had at least one longer than a year, and 23 percent have at least three gift cards that are more than a year old.
Don’t let gift cards go to waste
Too many people end up not using their gift cards at all, which results in unnecessary financial loss. The survey found that nearly three in 10 Americans (29 percent) kept a gift card so long that it expired.
Gift cards can be easy to misplace as well. In fact, a quarter of U.S. adults say they have lost at least one.
“Clean out your wallet, your purse, your junk drawer, your glove compartment — anywhere these unused gift cards might be hiding,” says Rossman.
And then there’s the problem of businesses closing before the gift card owner has the chance to use it. Nineteen percent of Americans said this happened to them.
Regardless of how it happened, almost half (47 percent) of all gift card owners ended up losing money. Millennials took the biggest hit, with 56 percent forfeiting those funds, 53 percent of Gen Zers, 41 percent of boomers, and 40 percent of Gen Xers lost cash that was due to them.
If you can’t use the gift card yourself, take action. One option is to regift the cards, so you can save on presents for other people.
“Regifting gift cards is a great way to also stretch your budget since you don’t have to spend money on a gift for an upcoming celebration,” says money saving expert Andrea Woroch.
“Just make sure the gift card is valid. It is better that it isn’t partially used or else it will look a bit more obvious that you are regifting it. Check the balance on any gift card at sites like giftcardgranny.com and Gift Card Mall. Be thoughtful about which cards you give to whom. Only give a gift card to a person who will appreciate a card from that specific merchant, retailer or restaurant.”
In fact, 24 percent of Americans say they do this. Or, you can recoup the funds by selling your gift cards, a strategy that 9 percent of U.S. adults said they used.
“There are a number of gift card resale sites where you can turn your unused gift cards or merchant credit for cash, including Raise.com or even eBay,” says Woroch, explaining that they can pay out up to 92 percent of the card’s value in cash.
Whatever you do, make a plan to use those cards before it’s too late.
“They’re not going to get more valuable over time,” says Rossman. “In fact, it’s the exact opposite, as inflation eats away at the value. And the longer you hold onto these unused gift cards, the more likely you are to lose them, forget about them or have the store go out of business.”
CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,372 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between July 27-29, 2022. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+). The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a nonprobability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.
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