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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Get the Most from Your Gift Cards

Jan 16, 2012 12:00AM

Gift cards have topped the list of most requested presents for years, but some recipients end up disappointed. To avoid that, try these 9 tips to get the most from your holiday gift cards.

1. Review Details

Read up on the rules and regulations. MasterCard and VISA often include additional purchase fees on top of the balance of the card. Other cards included as a bonus with your purchase are actually treated more like coupons, with short expiration dates or product restrictions.

2. Follow the News

Businesses come and go. If you have a gift card for a store that's struggling to stay afloat, it's smart to use it up as quickly as possible.

3. Consider Re-gifting

Do you have family or friends with a post-Christmas birthday or perhaps an upcoming wedding or baby shower? Unwanted gift cards make quality presents at no cost. Just make sure such holiday gift cards don't feature a season-specific design when gifting for another celebration.

4. Get Registered

Once you've decided you're going to use your gift card, get it registered. Call the issuers' customer service department and provide your name and address with the card's unique account number and PIN. If the card is lost or stolen you're able to get the balance credited back on a new card.

5. Keep It Close

Though gift cards work like cash, they certainly don't get the same treatment. Cash is closely guarded and meticulously monitored while gift cards get tossed into the sock drawer. To ensure they're around whenever you need them, put them in a secure place such as your purse, wallet or car.

6. Shop Smarter

Some shoppers don't spend as carefully as they would when using cash or a credit card. Using gift cards for stores like Walmart or Target on household items and boost your budget for a few months.

7. Make a Donation

Many organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation accept donations of gift cards that are used toward granting wishes. If smaller, local charities don't accept them, use your card to buy items like food and clothing you know they'll take. It's best to donate directly instead of through a third-party site so you know the money got there and you're guaranteed a tax deduction.

8. Keep Up with Balances

Keep store balance receipts along with the card. You can also check your balance on such sites as  In some states you can even request a cash refund when the balance falls under a certain amount. Currently the minimum is $10 in California.

9. Recycle

Several companies such as Target, REI and Walmart began using bioplastic gift cards made with a corn-based material that will biodegrade in a regular compost bin. Though some gift cards aren't biodegradable, you can mail them to Earthworks System, a PVC recycling company that began accepting gift cards for recycling last January.

Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert and  nationally recognized media source, Andrea has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times and many more.