Hidden Assets: Unload unused gift cards
You may hate the store, but that was real money in your stocking last Christmas. Why let it go to waste?
By Carla Fried, Money Magazine

(MONEY Magazine) -- This year billions of dollars' worth of gift cards - estimates range from $1.75 billion to $3.5 billion - won't be cashed in within 12 months of being purchased. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Even if you received a Starbucks card for Christmas and gave up java for your New Year's resolution, or your aunt sent you a Victoria's Secret card and your taste runs more to Talbots or L.L. Bean, you can do better than stashing it away.

A recent check of eBay turned up more than 3,000 gift cards being auctioned; many sell for 90 percent or more of their face value.

The free Web site Cardavenue.com offers an additional twist: card trading. Yep, there is now a rotisserie league for gift cards. "If you prefer a Sears card to the Gap card you have, we help you find someone with the Sears card," says chief executive officer Robert Butler.

If you have a gift card that's more than a year old, it may be shrinking: Some stores subtract maintenance fees of $2.50 a month after a year or so of inactivity. If a card has an expiration date that has come and gone, it's still worth contacting the issuer; you may be able to reactivate the card for a $10 to $15 fee - worthwhile if you can then unload it on the Web for more.

7 Steps to Uncover Hidden Assets:

1. Cash in old savings bonds

2. Boost your savings rate

3. Stop paying for unneeded life insurance

4. Consolidate your retirement accounts

5. Prune your credit cards

6. Unload unused gift cards

7. Finally sell that lousy investment  Top of page

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