Gift cards are a popular choice for holiday gifts: they don’t require a lot of shopping, they’re easy to ship, and they seem a little more tasteful than cold hard cash. This explains why Americans dropped $97 billion on gift cards last year and are expected to spend more than $100 billion this year.  But receiving gift cards isn’t always as easy as giving them. Driving all over town to redeem your gift certificate is the least of your worries. What if you don’t have a particular store in your town? Or if that store has gone out of business between the time the gift card was bought and when you received it? What if you forget to redeem it? After all, between 8 and 10 percent of gift cards go unredeemed every year. In 2007, for example, it was estimated that $8 billion in gifts cards went unspent.  But don’t spend time stressing about all these potential issues: there are plenty of tools out there that will help you make the most of your gift cards.
CertificateSwap.com: Received a gift certificate to a store that isn’t in your area? Or maybe just one that doesn’t really sell anything you’re interested in? You can list it for sale on CertificateSwap.com and either receive cash for your gift card or buy a certificate to another retailer that you’re more likely to use. There are some real deals to be found through CertificateSwap.com. Depending on the retailer that you want a gift certificate for, you can often get a good discount on the certificate you purchase.
LeverageCard: If you’ve got more than a few gift cards to manage, LeverageCard can help you handle the details. It provides a way to swap gift certificates, just like CertificateSwap, although its selection is a little sparser. LeverageCard also provides several other services: through the site, you can buy gift certificates from a long list of retailers, as well as check the balances of the gift cards you already have. LeverageCard also provides ways to manage points and loyalty cards, as well as frequent flier miles. (Before you sign up for LeveragedCard, though, be sure to check on its latest financial status.)
Swapagift.com: Along with allowing you to trade gift cards for cash or other cards, Swapagift.com has a tool that allows you to use gift cards to pay bills. Depending on the retailer, you receive a varying portion of the value of the card to be applied directly to your bills. You can also collect unused gift cards for charity: ship the cards to Swapagift.com and it’ll send proceeds amounting to 60 percent of the total value of your gift cards to the organization of your choice. Depending on the retailer, you might earn more for your organization by redeeming the card for cash through Swapagift.com’s standard cash-for-cards program, though.
Consumer Reports: While the Consumer Reports blog isn’t a traditional source of gift certificate advice, it’s becoming a key resource this year. The blog is keeping track of store closures, as well as which retailers that are facing trouble are still honoring their gift cards. Additionally, Consumer Reports has already debunked an email making the rounds with a lengthy list of stores purportedly in enough trouble to render their gift cards worthless. Take five minutes to search for the issuer of your gift card at the Consumer Reports blog, rather than worrying about getting to the store and spending that money immediately.
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-  “Are gift cards ultimately a waste of money?”