Turn Gift Cards Into Cash

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Chances are you received a gift card this holiday season; eight out of ten shoppers purchased at least one card this year. According to the CEB, an advisory company that tracks gift cards sales, over $118 billion in cards were sold in 2013. There are bound to be many consumers left with a card they may not want. After all, $1.7 billion in gift cards still went unused last year.

Let's look at a few potential ways consumers can sell their unwanted cards and avoid balance expiration. The first, and perhaps the easiest, is to sell your unwanted balances to one of the many online gift card exchanges. Companies like CardPool.com allow consumers to sell back cards for very reasonable prices.

Payouts vary depending on the merchant, but most of the cards will get at least 70 cents on the dollar. Some cards have higher than average payouts if demand for the merchant is high.

Maybe you were one of many consumers who got a Starbucks (SBUX) Card this year and you're really not a big coffee drinker. CardPool will pay out 75 cents on the dollar if you choose to enter the card details online for instant payment via PayPal. You can even do a little better with the card if you mail it, or if you choose an Amazon gift card as payment. Starbucks cards return 80 cents on the dollar using the mail-in method, with an extra 5% bonus added if you choose the Amazon (AMZN) payout.

In order to get the best price, I would look to shop your cards around though a website like GiftCardGranny.com, which shows consumers different card payouts across the industry. The other top exchanges on the market currently are ABC Gift Cards, GiftCards.com, and Junkcard.

The other method would be selling them on eBay (EBAY), where I have seen popular cards go for almost face value when shipping expense is included. Popular cards like those from Apple (AAPL) or McDonalds (MCD) can fetch up to 95 cents on the dollar. Search past eBay listings for your merchant's gift cards to get a good idea of value. Auction prices tend to fall in line with the secondary selling prices offered on the gift card exchanges.

Following the sale, eBay will take a small percentage fee of up to 10% depending on the listing type. These days listing items is free so you really just need to worry about paying fees if the card sells.

If the first two options just don't seem satisfying, consider donating your unwanted cards. There are a handful of smaller donation companies online where the balance of your cards can be donated to charity. I stumbled upon giftcardgiver.com, which takes in unwanted cards and distributes them to organizations and people in need. Basic cards such as those from Walmart (WMT) or Target (TGT) can be very helpful for families in need of a little bit of everything.

Moreover, I bet you could easily find an organization in your neighborhood such as the local food bank itching for your cards.

So, if you're looking to capitalize on the portfolio of gift cards you have sitting in the drawer, look no further than an online gift card exchanges. If the exchange payouts look a little low, you can take your chances on eBay for a potentially higher payout. And if neither of these options seem fulfilling, consider donating your unwanted balances to a charity, family or organization in need.

At the time of publication the author was long SBUX.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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