All those unredeemed gift cards in people’s drawers and on dresser tops are adding up. New research from Bankrate LLC estimates the total value of Americans’ unredeemed gift cards and leftover store credits at $21 billion.
Bankrate says its survey, the firm’s first of its kind, found the average adult has $167 in unused gift cards or store credits. Some 25% of U.S. adults have let a gift card expire, and 22% have lost one. More than half, 57%, have held onto an unused gift card or store credit for more than a year.
Why is so much money lying around? “Two main reasons—I think the biggest one is people just forget about them,” analyst Ted Rossman of New York City-based Bankrate tells Digital Transactions News. “We’re all guilty of it. It’s too bad—it’s real money.”
The second reason, Rossman posits, is that people often receive gift cards for stores “we don’t necessarily frequent.”
The findings are based on data collected online Jan. 15-17 from a sample of 2,602 adults, including 1,312 who had an unused gift card and/or store credit. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, Rossman says. Bankrate, which provides rate, fee, and other information about consumer financial products, commissioned YouGov Plc, a London-based market-research firm with North American operations, to do the data collection.
Bankrate found that higher-income individuals have more unredeemed gift-card balances than poorer people. Respondents with annual incomes of $80,000 had an average of $297 in unused gifts cards and store credits compared with $93 for consumers making less than $40,000, $135 for those making between $40,000 and $80,000, and $104 for respondents who didn’t know or declined to report their income.
“If you’re a low-income household and money is really tight, you’re going to be more conscious of that value,” says Rossman, who adds that higher-income people are more likely to receive gift cards.
Getting unredeemed gift cards and store certificates into circulation can be accomplished in a number of ways. They include re-gifting gift cards or selling them to third-party resellers such as Cardpool.com, CardCash.com, and GiftCardSpread.com, according to Bankrate. Such sites typically pay 70 to 80 cents on the dollar, depending on the card and merchant, Rossman says. He also notes that gift cards can be donated.