More than half of adults have unused gift cards. How to use this money

Display of gift cards in a Publix supermarket.

Jeff Greenberg | Universal Image Group | Getty Images

If you’re like many Americans, you might be sitting on a small financial windfall.

A new Bankrate.com poll finds that more than half of adults — 51% — currently have unused gift cards, vouchers and store credit. In total, that’s about $15 billion in idle money.

The average per person value of these unused credits: $116.

Additionally, many people — 73% — left those funds untouched for a year or more.

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There has been progress. Last year, the average unused value per person was $167.

Still, people should come up with a plan to put those funds to work, said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com.

“The less unused value, the better,” Rossman said. “I think a lot of people keep them too long and end up losing them.”

Millennials, in particular, were the most likely to have unused credits with no intention of using the money, according to the survey.

The good news is that most gift cards only expire after five years, if at all, Rossman said. But cardholders are still at risk of losing those funds because they can misplace the cards, forget them, or lose the ability to redeem them if a store goes bankrupt.

The best way to deal with this is to assess your store credits and come up with a plan for using the money.

“If you can’t use it for yourself, at least use it for someone else,” either buying a gift or passing the card on, Rossman said.

Most gift cards are reloadable, so even if you have an uneven amount left like $9.22, you might be able to add more money and give it back.

Alternatively, you can also try reselling the card on websites such as CardCash.com or Raise.com, which can get you back up to 85% of its value.

Bottom line: “Don’t just let it hang around,” Rossman said. “It’s like the worst result.”

The Bankrate survey of 2,387 American adults was conducted online between June 30 and July 2.

Michael N. Clark