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Unclaimed gift cards have emerged as a significant, yet often overlooked, aspect of the modern economic landscape. Despite their increasing popularity as a convenient gifting solution, a staggering number of these cards never reach their full redemption potential. This article aims to shed light on the phenomenon of unclaimed gift cards, their implications for consumers and businesses, and potential solutions.

The Magnitude of the Situation

Unclaimed gift cards account for billions in unused funds annually. In the U.S. alone, estimates suggest that up to $3 billion worth of gift cards remain unredeemed each year. This amount accumulates over time, creating a pool of dormant financial resources.

The Root Causes Unclaimed Gift Cards

The allure of gift cards as a gifting choice is undeniable, given their flexibility and the freedom they offer to recipients. Yet, despite their popularity, a staggering number of these cards remain unredeemed. Let’s delve into the primary reasons behind the phenomenon of unclaimed gift cards:

  1. Memory Lapses: Often, the simplest explanation is forgetfulness. Gift cards can easily be stashed in a wallet, purse, or drawer with the intention of using them at a later date. As time passes, many people forget about their existence, leading to the cards remaining unused.
  2. Partial Utilization: A gift card may be used once, but if it doesn't get exhausted in that one transaction, the remaining balance might be so minimal that the user deems it not worth the effort to spend.
  3. Overwhelming Choices: Paradoxically, the very flexibility that makes gift cards appealing can also be their undoing. With so many options available, some recipients may suffer from "choice paralysis," unable to decide what to purchase, eventually leading to non-redemption.
  4. Complex Redemption Processes: For some cards, especially those that can be used in multiple outlets or online, the redemption process can appear complex or cumbersome. This perceived difficulty can deter some users from claiming their gift's value.
  5. Expiry Dates: While many gift cards today don't have expiration dates, there are still a significant number that do. If the recipient doesn't use the card within the specified period, its value is lost.
  6. Retailer Insolvency: On rare occasions, a retailer might go out of business after the issuance of a gift card but before its redemption. In such cases, the gift card becomes worthless unless there are arrangements made during the liquidation process.
  7. Lack of Awareness: Sometimes, recipients might not be fully aware of where the gift card can be redeemed, especially if it’s for a niche brand or service. This lack of awareness can lead to non-redemption.
  8. Physical to Digital Transition: With the rising trend of digital gift cards, some traditional users might not be as comfortable or familiar with the concept, leading to hesitancy in redemption.

Understanding the root causes behind unclaimed gift cards can be instrumental for businesses to strategize better and for consumers to maximize the value they derive from such gifts. The onus is on both parties: retailers can streamline redemption processes and improve awareness campaigns, while recipients can be more proactive in using the gift cards they receive.

Implications for the Business World

For businesses, unclaimed gift cards represent a paradox. On the one hand, they can be seen as lost opportunities to drive sales and customer engagement. On the other, these unclaimed funds often contribute to what’s termed as "breakage" revenue. This is the profit companies make from gift cards that are sold but never redeemed. Over time, these amounts can significantly bolster a company's bottom line.

Pathways to Resolution

Addressing the issue of unclaimed gift cards requires concerted efforts from both consumers and businesses. Here are some suggestions:

  • Routine Checks: By regularly reviewing their possessions, consumers can remain aware of any gift cards they possess.
  • Embrace Technology: Several digital platforms allow users to store, manage, and even sell their gift cards, ensuring they remain at the forefront of their minds.
  • Educate and Inform: Awareness campaigns can remind consumers of the importance and potential value of their unused gift cards.
  • Legislative Action: Some states are considering or have already implemented rules that treat unused gift card funds like unclaimed property, requiring businesses to hand it over to the state after a certain duration.
How to Claim

Unclaimed gift cards are a phenomenon that can lead to lost value for consumers. Whether you've found an old gift card in a drawer or received one as a gift and forgot about it, there are steps you can take to claim or make use of these cards. Here's a guide to help you do just that:

  1. Check the Balance:
    • Before anything else, determine the current balance of the card. Most retailers offer this service on their websites or via a customer service phone number. Have the gift card number and, if required, the PIN or security code handy.
  2. Know the Expiry Date:
    • Some gift cards have expiration dates, while others do not. Make sure to check if the card has expired. In recent years, laws in many countries have extended the validity period of gift cards or removed expiry dates altogether.
  3. Visit the Retailer:
    • If you're unsure about the validity or balance of the card, visiting the retailer in person can help. They can scan the card and provide you with all the necessary information.
  4. Use It Online:
    • If the retailer has an online store, consider using the gift card there. Online stores often provide a field to enter the gift card number during the checkout process.
  5. Gift Card Exchange Platforms:
    • There are platforms and websites where you can sell your gift card for cash or exchange it for another card. While you might not get 100% of the card's value, it's better than letting it go to waste.
  6. Consolidation:
    • Some retailers allow you to consolidate the balances of multiple gift cards onto a single card. This is particularly useful if you have several cards with small amounts.
  7. Retailer Bankruptcy:
    • If a retailer goes out of business, claiming the value becomes trickier. Check if there's an appointed liquidator or administrator, as they might have specific processes for gift card holders. In some instances, other businesses may honor the bankrupt retailer's gift cards as a goodwill gesture, but this is not guaranteed.
  8. Replacement for Lost or Damaged Cards:
    • If you've lost a gift card or it's damaged, some retailers may offer a replacement, especially if you have a purchase receipt or proof that the card was issued to you.
  9. State Unclaimed Property Programs (primarily in the U.S.):
    • In certain states, unused gift card balances are considered unclaimed property. If the retailer cannot contact the gift card holder after a specific period, they might be required to turn the funds over to the state's unclaimed property office. You can check your state's official unclaimed property website to see if any funds belong to you.
  10. Stay Organized:
    • To avoid the hassle of unclaimed gift cards in the future, consider using apps or digital wallets that store and manage your gift card details. They can also send you reminders to use your cards.


Unclaimed gift cards represent a lost opportunity for consumers and a silent boon for businesses. As the digital age progresses, it might become easier to manage and redeem these cards. Until then, it's up to the consumer to stay vigilant, organized, and proactive about maximizing the value of their gift cards.

Frequently Asked Questions
What are unclaimed gift cards?

Unclaimed gift cards refer to gift cards that have been purchased but have not been fully redeemed or used. They often sit in drawers, wallets, or digital accounts without being utilized.

How much money is typically left unclaimed on gift cards annually?

While the exact amount can vary, industry reports have estimated that up to $3 billion worth of gift cards goes unused each year in the U.S. alone.

Why do gift cards go unclaimed?

There are various reasons, including forgetfulness, loss of the card, not finding anything to purchase, partial use with small remaining balances, or the retailer going out of business.

Do gift cards expire?

It depends on the issuing company and local regulations. Many gift cards today don't have expiration dates, but some still do. It's essential to check the terms and conditions of each card.

What happens if a company goes bankrupt? Can I still use my gift card?

If a retailer goes bankrupt, the future of unredeemed gift cards becomes uncertain. Some businesses may honor them for a short period, while others may not. It's advisable to use gift cards promptly if you hear news of a retailer facing financial troubles.

Is there any way to exchange my unwanted gift cards?

Yes, there are several online platforms where you can sell or trade your gift cards, such as Raise or CardCash. Keep in mind that you might not receive the full value of the card.

What is "breakage" in the context of gift cards?

Breakage refers to the profit companies make from gift cards that have been purchased but never redeemed. It represents the unclaimed value that businesses can eventually recognize as revenue.

Can I reclaim funds from an expired gift card?

Some jurisdictions or retailers may allow you to reclaim funds or reactivate an expired gift card, but this is not universal. It's best to check the card's terms and conditions or contact the retailer directly.

Are there any apps to help track and manage my gift cards?

Yes, there are various apps and digital wallet services, like Gyft or Stocard, that allow you to store, manage, and check the balance of your gift cards.

I found an old gift card. How can I check if it still has value?

You can usually check the balance of a gift card by visiting the retailer's website and entering the card's details. Alternatively, you can call the customer service number provided on the card or visit the retailer in person.

In the U.S., can unclaimed gift card balances be turned over to the state?

In some states, unused gift card balances may be considered unclaimed property after a certain period. Retailers might be required to turn these funds over to the state's unclaimed property office, from where consumers can claim them.

How can I ensure I make the most of my gift cards in the future?

Consider setting reminders, using digital wallets to store and manage your cards, and making it a habit to check your gift card balances regularly. If you're unlikely to use them, think about gifting or selling them to someone who will.

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