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Personal finance

If a gift card’s a miss, you can turn it into a hit

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Gift cards are easily forgotten.

All too often they are placed in drawers or stuffed into wallets, never to be seen again. Some $1.7 billion of the $110 billion worth of gift cards bought in 2012 will go unused, according to estimates from research company CEB TowerGroup.

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If you’re not happy about the store your gift card is from, don’t let the money go to waste. You have options, such as trading it in for cash or airline miles. But the first step to take when you get a gift card is to register it on the company’s website, says Scott Gamm, founder of HelpSaveMyDollars.com. Registration creates a record of how much money is on the card and will protect you if you lose the card. Just check the card provider’s website to see if registration is offered.

Mobile apps can also help you track your cards. Here are several ways to put a gift card to use:

 Turn it into cash. Websites like PlasticJungle.com, GiftCards.com, and CardPool.com will pay you up to 92 percent of a card’s value, depending on how easy it is to resell. For a $100 Target gift card, all three are paying $92. You may have to mail the card in, but in many cases just typing in the card number works. You are then paid through PayPal or by check. You need to have at least a $25 balance on the card to sell it on PlasticJungle.com and CardPool.com and $20 to sell it on GiftCards.com.

 Think outside the card. Even though a card has a store name on the front, you might be able to use it at the parent company’s other stores. For example, an Old Navy gift card can be used at Gap, Banana Republic, and Athleta stores and on Piperlime, the company’s online store. TJX Cos. gift cards can be used at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods stores.

 Trade for miles. A lingering gift card balance can bring you closer to a dream vacation. United Airlines customers enrolled in their MileagePlus program can exchange gift cards for award miles through the airline’s website. A $25 gift card is currently worth 1,000 award miles. United Airlines accepts gift cards from more than 100 stores. The gift card must have at least $15 on it.

 Give to those in need. Many charities, such as Goodwill, will take your gift card and give it to someone who can put it to use.

 Swap it for another card. On PlasticJungle.com, for example, you can quickly convert your card into an electronic gift card for Amazon.com. PlasticJungle.com also charges less if you want to make the switch. The website will pay $92 for a $100 Target gift card, but it will give you $94.50 if you choose to turn it into an Amazon card.

 Regift it. You can always regift a card to someone who would appreciate it more. The Gyft app, which stores gift cards on smartphones, also enables you to regift cards. The recipient does not need to have the Gyft app downloaded. The gift card can be e-mailed as an electronic card or posted on a Facebook account.

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