What’s in the cards? Americans have $21B in unused gift cards and store credits

February 19, 2020

What could be better than selecting and purchasing a present for yourself—but not paying for it? That might explain why gift cards were, once again, the most-requested holiday gift of 2019, according to research conducted by the Blackhawk Network as part of its Branded Pay Holiday Shopping Research series.

In fact, Blackhawk reports that—doubling the estimated 3.4% increase in overall holiday retail sales—U.S. consumers spent 7% more on gift cards during the 2019 holiday season than in 2018.

But now those cards are gathering dust: Fully 50% of American adults currently have unredeemed gift cards or store credits that are estimated to be valued at $21 billion in untouched money, according to findings of a survey released on February 18 by personal finance resource Bankrate. This whopping 10-figure number even includes airline redemption vouchers.

Indeed, Fox Business News reports, high-income households tend to leave the most on the table when it comes to unused gift card funds. On average, families that make $80,000 or more have $297 in unredeemed cards. This number drops down slightly for parents who have children under the age of 18, according to Bankrate, who instead have $274 in unredeemed gift cards on average.

Millennials between the ages of 24 and 39 also are leaving money on the table, with an average of $234 remaining on their cards.

Who spends the “free money” right away? Both Gen-Xers between the ages of 40 and 55 and low-income households that make under $30,000 are least likely to leave money on gift cards, according to Bankrate. In particular, only 46% of Gen X leave money on gift cards while 41% of low-income households do the same.

With all the demographics are factored, the average adult has $167 in unused gift cards or credits, according to Bankrate.

The question is, why? The people who haven’t used their gift cards have different approaches or reasons for the delay, according to the survey. Twenty-three percent said they re-gifted their cards; 22% said they lost their gift cards; and 8% said they resold at least one gift card.

Millennials are said to be more likely to re-gift their cards (at 27%), while Gen-Zers are most likely to have lost one card (at 33%)..

“Gift cards and store credits are real money, so treat them as such,” Ted Rossman, a Bankrate analyst, told Fox Business News. “If you’ve been holding onto a gift card from a store you don’t like, there’s nothing wrong with re-gifting it, using it to buy a gift for someone else, or even selling it.”

“You can sell unwanted gift cards at sites such as Cardpool, CardCash, and GiftCardSpread,” Rossman added. “You can also buy discounted gift cards from these sites. That’s a great way to save on an upcoming purchase. Look for consumer protections: For example, Cardpool offers a one-year guarantee on gift cards it resells.”

Bankrate’s survey was commissioned by YouGov.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness.

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