Consumers Lose Up to $5 Billion on Unused Gift Cards

Media Releases

CALPIRG Education Fund

San Francisco, CA – Every year consumers leave up to $5 billion on unused gift-cards across the country.  As California families wrap up their holiday shopping, last minute gift-cards are a popular choice, with over $100 billion in U.S. sales.

“It’s tough to beat the convenience of a gift-card, but consumers should be aware that about 2-5% of gift-cards end up going unused,” said Jon Fox, Consumer Advocate with the California Public Interest Group Education Fund (CALPIRG). “In California that money stays with the retailers and is essentially a $5 billion gift from consumers every year.”

“Here in California, consumers have some of the toughest laws regulating gift-cards,” added Jon Fox. “For example, most gift cards are prohibited from having expiration dates or service fees,” noted Jon Fox, adding “In California the consumer, not the retailer, controls when and how a gift card will be redeemed.”

Since you never know when the opportunity to use the gift-card will present itself, consumers should carry gift- cards in their wallets. As the holiday season reaches its peak, CALPIRG reminded consumers that California laws require merchants to reimburse consumers for the remainder of gift-cards with a balance of less than $10.

“Consumers often don’t know that the $2 balance left on their Starbucks card is as good as cash, and let it go to waste,” said Jon Fox. “If it’s less than $10, simply ask for the remainder on your gift card back in cash,” recommended Jon Fox.

CALPIRG noted that California law does not apply to multiple retailer gift-cards such as mall or bank gift-cards including Visa and MasterCard gift-cards. For those types of gift-cards, only federal law would apply.

If consumers receive a gift-card that they know they will never use, CALPIRG recommends two ways to put them to good use:
1.    Sell or trade unused gift-cards rather than letting them go to waste, on sites like Card Avenue,, or Plastic Jungle.

2.    Donate unwanted cards to a nonprofit or charitable organization who accept gift-card donations. You can donate through or through Plastic Jungle, which gives you the option to donate unused gift-cards through .

For more information contact:                    
Jon Fox, CALPIRG Consumer Advocate                                               
Office: (415) 622 0039 x309
[email protected]

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The California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (CALPIRG) is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.