For years gift cards have been considered a popular gift option for friends and family. The ease and convenience these cards offer can take a lot of the guesswork out of holiday shopping, but choosing the right card and protecting its value doesn’t come without its risks.

On average, the typical consumer has plans to spend around $155.43 on gift cards. That figure, gleaned from the National Retail Federation’s first annual holiday survey is the highest amount recorded since 2007. The high number helps put into perspective the popularity of those pieces of plastic, which for the fifth year in a row have topped the wish lists of consumers across the nation. In fact, the NRF estimated that spending on gift cards this holiday season would reach $27.8 billion, which is around the amount spent by consumers back in 2007.

So then, what do you do if you’re the lucky recipient of a gift card, but don’t necessarily want to make additional purchases that will add to your clutter? Fortunately, there are a number of options available out there to help you put your funds you better use.

Sell Your Gift Card Online for Cash

As we’ve written before, a number of companies out there have developed marketplaces for consumers that want to sell their gift cards. With one company,Plastic Jungle, sellers can simply enter the merchant and the dollar amount of their gift card on the company’s website, and wait for the company to make them an offer.

Another great service is called GoalMine, an online social sharing website that allows you to take the unused funds on your gift card in addition to your own cash to make investments. As with Plastic Jungle, signing up for the service is free, and allows you to open an account with as little as $25. You’ll still want to do your homework to ensure that you’re getting the best possible price for the card you plan to sell, since each service can offer different pricing for each of the cards offered.

Wait–Don’t Buy That Gift Card

If you’re planning to purchase a gift card for someone, you’ll definitely want to do your homework beforehand, since some are riskier than others. Purchasing a gift card from a retailer that’s experiencing financial difficulties can be risky, since many that have filed for bankruptcy have voided such purchases in order to settle their debts. One company,, does all the homework for you by using a 100 point system to determine which gift cards purchases are safe and which ones could see you losing value if a company files for bankruptcy.

Fortunately for those planning to purchase a gift card, the CARD Act of 2009 has added new protections to protect consumers, such as extending the period a card is inactive before an inactivity fee can be charged to 12 months, and requiring greater disclosures. Gift card rules and protections also differ from state to state, so refer to the National Conference of State Legislatures for more information about your state’s laws. And, check out our own tips on how to choose the best gift card.

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