Now is a Good Time to Use Those Gift Cards

As major companies begin to close stores, it's a good time to make sure you aren't holding on to unused gift cards

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Gift cards are a common gift for birthdays and holidays, but how often do we use them? It turns out people keep billions of dollars on unused gift cards each year. As the coronavirus pandemic affects many businesses, it can be a good time to make sure you know which cards you still have.

"If they're out of business, you're out of luck," said SDSU Marketing professor Miro Copic. "You should know which gift cards you have and use them as quickly as possible."

There are up to $3 billion worth of gift cards that go unused each year according to a January analysis by industry group Mercator Advisory.

As stores like J. Crew face bankruptcy or closing for good, Copic said this is a great time to make sure you use the money in your wallet. He suggests starting with stores that might be facing bankruptcy.

"They're going to emerge from bankruptcy with fewer stores," said Copic about J. Crew. "But they still have an online presence, and they are going to honor cards as long as they are in business."

Copic said it isn't important to use your gift cards right away at major companies.

"Don't worry about Walmart, Target, Costco, any of those places," Copic said. "They are not going anywhere."

But for local stores and restaurants, it is a different story. Some viewers told NBC 7 Responds they had more than $100 in unused gift cards for restaurants that have now closed for good.

"Given where things are going, you should look into using them as soon as possible," Copic said. "Those are the ones that will be at the highest risk, especially local restaurants."

Many restaurants and local businesses are asking people to buy gift cards to help them stay in business. Copic said people don't have to stop buying gift cards, just make sure you are using them.

If you are giving a gift card as a gift and are not sure it will be used, Copic said to think about different types of cards.

"You could give a more general gift card like a VISA gift card," Copic said. "Something like that is worth money and you can shop anywhere you would like."

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