If the answer to the question “What’s in your wallet?” includes gift cards with a useless balance — say $2.34 — you’ll be pleased to hear about a bill passed May 25 by the Oregon legislature. Fed up with the serious amount of unused plastic in their wallets, house members voted to require businesses let customers exchange their gift cards for cash, if the balance is under $5.
According to The Oregonian, the state’s citizens are presently encumbered with $100 million worth of unredeemed gift cards.
It may not be long before other states follow suit but, until then, here are five ways to deal with pesky balances on those glorified plastic coupons.
1. Know The Balance
This is easier than it sounds. Check your gift card balance to determine if your balance is $2.50 or $25. GiftcardGranny.com, which also allows you to buy and sell discount gift cards, offers a simple method of checking your balance for more than 300 merchants. You could also call the retailer’s 1-800 number, but this method could mean a lot of time spent on hold.
Some cards require you to register your card to check your balance, but this can be useful if that piece of plastic is lost or stolen.
2. Keep Track of the Balance
Some gift cards have a little box on the back where you can note your remaining balance. If your card doesn’t have one of these, write the total amount on a sticky note and wrap it around the card.
3. Add to the Balance
Amazon and Walmart allow you to add any increment to a gift card, so if the balance is $2.95 and you want to make an online purchase, calculate the total cost at checkout then go back and buy a gift card for the remaining amount. With any luck, this policy will catch on with other merchants and services.
4. Know a Merchant’s Policies
Some stores allow card holders to pay for purchases in multiple ways, so you can empty the card and fork over cash or use a credit card to complete the transaction. You’ll also want to check whether a store takes less-frequently accepted gift cards, such as Discover and American Express.
5. Know Your Spending Habits
Will you likely spend $50 at a store and never visit again? Then purchase a card with a $50 balance and avoid a dangling balance. Merchants with whom you shop more frequently, such as grocery stores, may call for a $100 gift card, since you know you’ll use up the balance. Keep in mind you can buy discount cards for less than the face value, which can save you anywhere from 15% to 50%
This is a Guest Post by Consumer savings expert, Andrea Woroch, who has appeared on ABC News NOW, NBC’s Today Show, FOX & Friends, MSNBC and has been quoted by SmartMoney, Kiplinger Personal Finance and many more. See Andrea’s recent interview on NBC Today Show