10 ways to get the most out of gift cards

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10 ways to get the most out of gift cards

Don't let those deceptively simple gift cards fool you: There are smart(er) ways to buy and use America's go-to present. Here are ten ways to get the most value out of your gift cards.

1. Use your gift cards sooner, not later

Spend wisely, for sure, but also do so in a timely fashion. The longer you hang on to a gift card, the more likely you are to forget about or lose it. Moreover, there's no guarantee the retailer will stay in business. (See: Poor Toys R Us' recent liquidation announcement.) And gift cards aren't exactly high priority in bankruptcy court.

2. Sell gift cards you don't want ...

Rather than sit on a card that could ultimately become worthless, consider selling it to or through a reputable gift card exchange, like CardPool, Gift Card Granny or Raise. You won't get full value for the card, though popular retailers can net you close to it.

3. ... or trade 'em in at Target

The retail giant will let you exchange gift cards from a bunch of big brands for one of theirs. Again, you don't always get a dollar-to-dollar exchange, but it's an option. You can search on Target' website to see which retailer gift cards it's currently accepting and whether there's a location participating in the program near you.

4. Buy gift cards on resale sites ...

These sites buy gift cards for less than face value, but also charge less than face value to shoppers. The savings aren't astronomical (you're looking at around $5 to $10 per card) and popular retailers tend to tout the lowest discount. But, hey, every little bit counts.

5. ... or at wholesale clubs

Warehouse stores Sam's Club and Costco are known to sell new gift cards at a discount.

6. Visit your credit card rewards portal

Thanks to their partnerships with various retailers and restaurants, credit card issuers often let you redeem rewards for discounted gift cards. For instance, as of writing this, Chase had iTunes, Kohl's, JCPenney, Pottery Barn and West Elm gift cards going at a 10% discount on its Ultimate Rewards site. In other words, you could cash in $90 worth of points for a $100 from any those retailers. We've got a few more ways to maximize your credit card rewards here.

7. Go for the eGift card

Digital gift cards are easier to keep track of (they literally just hang out in your inbox). Plus, you'll skip shipping fees.

8. Stick with store-specific gift cards

They carry less fees than general-purpose gift cards sold by banks or credit card issuers. In fact, they usually carry no fees, while general-purpose gift cards almost always at least charge a purchase fee.

9. Stack gift cards & coupons

Getting ready to use that gift card you got for Christmas? Do a quick internet search for a coupon code or see if the retailer is offering a discount for signing up for their promotional emails to get the most mileage out of your money.

10. Don't let small balances go to waste

These days, there are a lot of ways to wring every last cent from your gift card, outside of simply spending more in one fell swoop. Some states actually require stores to cash out gift cards below a certain amount. And many retailers now let you save leftovers balances directly to your online account, so you can use them next time you make a purchase.

Plus, there's this nifty trick for dealing with small balances on general-purpose gift cards, specifically: Use those leftover funds to reload the gift card balance on your Amazon account. There's no limit to how many payment methods you can use, so a bunch of small balances can easily turn into a big one. And you'll avoid any expiration dates on the general-purpose gift card.

Looking for more ways to save? We've got 12 couponing tips right here.

Image: AnthonyRosenberg