monopoly_money.jpgThat gift card might have seemed like a great last-minute gift idea, but it may not ever get used, according to consumer advocates.

Every year around 2 to 5 percent of all gift cards end up going unused, said Jon Fox, a consumer advocate with the California Public Interest Group Education Fund.

“In California that money stays with retailers and is essentially a $5 billion gift from consumers every year,” Fox said.

Fortunately, in California most gift cards are not allowed to have expiration dates or service fees. In addition, merchants are required to reimburse you in cash for any gift card balances of less than $10.

“Consumers often don’t know that the $2 balance left on their Starbucks card is as good as cash, and let it go to waste,” said Fox.

Fox recommends that consumers carry gift cards with them in their wallet, so that they have them whenever an opportunity to use them comes up.

If you received a gift card you know you will never use, there are websites where you can sell them, like Card Avenue, or Plastic Jungle. You can also donate unwanted cards to some charities. Check or Plastic Jungle for details, Fox said.

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