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Are your unwanted gift cards collecting dust? Add to ...

If you are anything like me, you have unused gift cards gathering dust somewhere in your house.

There was the glass vase we received as a wedding present and promptly returned, the card that was supposed to go towards a Christmas gift of snowshoes, and the $50 gift card to a high-end spa where the least expensive treatment is $200.

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I keep meaning to redeem these cards, but I never seem to get around to it. Come to think of it, I should have pulled some of those out before I did my back-to-school shopping.

At least I am not alone. Canadians spend an estimated $6-billion dollars a year on gift cards. Meanwhile, a U.S. consumer study found that 25 per cent of gift cards are never redeemed, either because they expire, have been lost or are damaged.

For retailers, that translates into money in the bank but for consumers, it is an irritating waste.

But there are options for people stuck with unwanted cards. They can visit Cardswap.ca or Giftah.ca, two Canadian-run websites that allow you to turn your unused or partially-used gift card into cash - or buy a card at a discount.

At Cardswap.ca, consumers simply enter the name of the merchant and value of the card to receive an instant cash offer. The amount of the offer depends on the popularity of the merchant as well as supply, demand and seasonality, but generally ranges from 65 to 90 per cent of the value of the card.

It's not the whole amount, but that sure beats having the cards sitting around in your house, right?

Since cardswap.ca resells the cards, after taking a part of the proceeds, people can also go to the site to buy a gift card. In addition, people can choose to donate the proceeds of the card to a Canadian charity.

Although gift cards are loved for their convenience, the Consumers' Association of Canada has been vocal in criticizing them. They say they receive many complaints about prepaid cards, which can have unexpected expiry dates, administrative fees and restrictions on cash-back services.

So as with all financial purchases, it recommends that consumers who are considering buying a gift card read the fine print. This also applies to cards you are looking to sell.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has this helpful list of ten things to consider before buying a prepaid card, including gift cards for retailers and prepaid cards from Visa, MasterCard or American Express.

In the meantime, I am going to put redeeming - or selling - that pile of old gift cards on my to-do list. And this time, I mean it.

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