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Hate your gift card? Swap to get one you really want

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gift cards continue to top the list of most requested presents this holiday season. But what if you don't like the one you get?

You can shove it in a drawer and let it expire, adding to the $2.5 billion retailers are expected to collect in leftover gift card credit this year.

Or you can exchange that $50 credit to Sports Authority for the iTunes card you really want through a gift card exchange.

These exchanges are cropping up all over the Internet: PlasticJungle.com, Cardpool.com, CardWoo.com, GiftCards.com are just some of the options.

PlasticJungle.com and Cardpool.com, for example, act as exchanges, buying your unwanted card and then giving you cash either through a check, PayPal deposit or Amazon.com gift card. You can then buy the card you want, choosing from the sites' inventories.

But swapper beware. Most of these sites don't let you sell your card for its full value. Instead, you're typically given about 90% of the value back.

"[These] sites are basically brokers and take on more risk to make the exchange happen faster, so you have to pay a little more for that privilege," said Tim Sloane, director of prepaid services at Mercator Advisory Group.

On PlasticJungle.com, for example, if you sell a $50 gift card to Sports Authority, the site will pay you $37.50 in cash or send you a $39.38 gift card to Amazon.com.

If you then want to buy a new gift card, those are sold at a discount, meaning the card will be loaded with more money than you actually spend buying it.

For example, if you take your $37.50 in earnings from the Sports Authority card, you could then buy a Target card with a value of $38.51 for discounted $37.36.

Still, you lose almost $11 in the deal.

Giftcardswapping.com is one of the rare sites that lets you exchange your gift card for another card of the same value. But there are a limited number of cards available -- currently only eight cards are eligible for swapping and nine are available to buy -- and customers must mail their card to the company and pay a $3.99 fee.

Social network meets card swap: CardHub.com, a credit-card comparison website, is taking the concept of a gift card exchange to the next level. A few weeks ago, the company launched a social networking gift exchange using Facebook that allows consumers to buy, sell and exchange gift cards.

If you have an unwanted card, go to CardHub's site and hunt around for a card you want. Like other gift card exchanges, you can sell your card directly to CardHub and then buy discounted cards. Or you can connect to your friends, colleagues and people nearby using Facebook so that you can buy, sell and trade cards with the community of your choice.

"Gift card exchanges essentially buy a card from you at a discount and mark it up to sell to other consumers," said CardHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. "What we do is allow you to sell it directly to us, but if you don't like the price we offer, we allow you to list the card for free and negotiate directly with other consumers."

You can list your gift card on the exchange for up to one dollar below the full value, meaning a $100 card can be listed for as much as $99. It's then up to the people in the network to negotiate the final price.

CardHub's exchange currently offers more than 200 gift card options and the company estimates that the site will bring in 30,000 users this month.

Watch the date: With any of these sites, make sure to check issue date on the card you're getting.

While retailers used to be able to decide when a card would expire and could charge inactivity fees, new federal rules require gift cards issued on or after Aug. 22, 2010, to be valid for five years and ban inactivity fees during the first year.

"Double-check when the card was issued to make sure the one you get is current and not from a couple years ago or from last holiday season," said Farnoosh Torabi, a personal finance expert at Credit.com. "Otherwise, the card is subject to the old rules."

Cash in on your card: And for many consumers, it might just be easier to sell an unwanted gift card and get cash back to spend freely.

"While you may not get the full amount back, getting 80% or 90% is still really good," said Torabi. "People usually spend more than what their gift card allows, so you may not be saving money by swapping anyway -- sometimes cash will go further."

If you have a few dollars left on a gift card or are just in the holiday spirit, you can even donate a leftover balance to the charity of your choice using sites like PlasticJungle.com. To top of page

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