We're Leaving Billions on the Table in Gift Cards

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They're the easiest thing in the world, so convenient that stores place them at checkout counters with candy and gum. Gift cards are the perfect last-minute or easily transferred present. Who doesn't love their flexibility and potential? Surprisingly, there's a lot of money tied up in gift cards, thanks to one simple fact: They're also easy to forget to use.

A new survey from Bankrate has revealed the full extent of how much money we're wasting in unused gift cards. Half of American adults are holding onto these money sinks right now, to the tune of $167 per person in unaccessed funds. Overall, that makes for more than $20 billion that we've paid for but not spent.

Part of this may have to do with certain protections from the federal government. Your gift card isn't allowed to expire sooner than five years after it's activated. If you're really waffling about what to do with all that extra plastic in your wallet, though, you've got a few good options.

First, if it doesn't feel tacky, you can certain pass along your gift card to someone who will really appreciate it. It may also be possible to donate your unused gift cards to charity; check in with your favorite organizations to see if they'll accept them. Finally, there's also the resale market, where you can generally get between 70 and 90 percent of your gift card's value from an online buyer. Of course, it may be worth hanging on to your card after all — there are other uses that could pay off a lot more.