Dear America: Stop Wasting Unused Gift Cards and Credit Card Rewards!

The world of personal finance can sometimes feel nothing short of a mystical monetary jungle. There are many ways to get lost and predators are just waiting to pounce on you. As with the jungle, perhaps the biggest risk is fear, meaning that we are our own biggest risk.

According to a new survey from Bankrate.com, roughly half of U.S. adults are the not-so-proud owners of unredeemed gift cards or store credits. This includes higher-priced airline redemption vouchers. Bankrate showed that the average adult has $167 in unused cards and credits, which tallies up to a grand total of $21 billion in money that has not been used. The survey of 2,602 adults from January (2020) showed that 1,312 adults currently have an unused gift card or store credit.

There is a top-down load of which income brackets hold the highest amount of unused points and wasted credits. Households with income of $80,000 and higher are shown to be wasting about $297 on average. Parents with children under the age of 18 are also culprits, with an unused tally of $274 on average. Even millennials are guilty, with an average of $234 that remains unused.

Those making under $40,000 have an average of $93 in unused credits, versus $135 for those who earn $40,000 to $80,000. The average balance of unused credits was $104 for those who did not know or chose not to identify their annual incomes.

Another surprise is that 36% of those people who still have unused funds say they won’t use all their gift cards and store credits. That figure includes 23% who plan to use most of their unredeemed cards, but there were 9% who said they plan to use only a few and 4% who plan to spend none.

Of those adults who have unused gift cards or credits, 57% admitted that they have held onto at least one credit for more than a year. Another figure that is hard to imagine is that roughly one-fourth of adults in the United States have let a gift card to expire at some point. Bankrate showed that 23% have “regifted” theirs, followed by 22% that have been lost and 8% who have resold at least one gift card.

Maybe the only good news is that over half of the wasted credits are under $100. Bankrate showed that 36% of their unused gift cards and store credits were estimated at $1 to $49, and 22% in the survey believe that the value was between $50 and $99. Still, there is a lot of waste at the higher prices as well: 21% between $100 and $199, 14% between $200 and $499 and 5% at $500 or higher.

Unfortunately, many of these cards are unlikely to be recovered or used. Bankrate pointed out that issuers can charge a monthly inactivity fee that is deducted from a card’s balance on gift cards that have gone unused for a year or more. There is also a period of five years from activation until a gift card can legally expire.

There is a saying that a penny saved is a penny earned. It’s actually worse than that. The penny earned has to get taxed, and the penny saved is based on after-tax money.

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