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Free Money this Holiday Season: Make the Best Use of Gift and Credit Cards

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If you saw $300 lying on the ground, would you pick it up? Of course – we all would. It’s therefore curious that the average household has roughly $300 in unused gift cards lying around, especially since the average consumer is expected to spend just over $800 on gifts this holiday season.

With the economy in its current precarious state, we could all benefit from new ways to save, and unlocking the value of our gift cards is certainly a good one. However, it’s far from the only one, so without further delay, let’s explore a few different ways you can use plastic to save money this holiday season:

Unlock value from old cards

A quarter of U.S. consumers have at least one unused gift card remaining from last year, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Poll, and 55% of these people have more than two. There are three ways you can put these cards to use this holiday season:

First, the fact that most stores allow you to buy new gift cards with old ones means that in the likely event your card has accumulated some noticeable wear and tear, you can always re-gift it and the recipient will be none the wiser. Furthermore, if you order a gift card online and choose to have it delivered via mail, it will likely come in some festive packaging, making gift wrapping one less thing to worry about.

Second, if you have a gift card for a store that neither you nor anyone you know likes, you can sell it online for cash.

Finally, should any of the gift cards in your possession be expired, you can go through a state unclaimed property program to recoup unused funds.

Buy discounted gift cards

Most people assume that there’s very little budge in terms of a gift card’s price. I mean, you’re essentially buying money, so why would the cost vary? The truth is that much like you can find great deals on electronics or golf clubs by perusing eBay, you can save as much as 30% on gift cards through an online gift card exchange. So don’t rush to buy gift cards directly from the stores to which they are tied.

Gift cards aren’t the only form of plastic that can help you save, however. Credit cards can play an important role as well. After all, the Great Recession has pushed credit card companies to step up their competition for the most financially stable consumers, and there’s a lot of value to be had from the initial rewards bonuses and 0% offers that currently characterize the good and excellent credit genres. So, how does one realize this value?

Look for bonus rewards

It’s currently en vogue for credit card companies to offer extra points, miles, or cash back to consumers just for opening a new card or charging a certain amount within a few months of doing so. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers one of the best initial bonuses on the market – 50,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 during the first three months. While these points are redeemable for $625 in airfare or hotel accommodations, redeeming for a $500 check or statement credit might be more helpful, as bank accounts tend to be depleted following the pricey holiday shopping season.

Minimize finance charges

Similarly, many cards offer 0% interest introductory periods, and considering how quickly finance charges can add up, opening one represents an interesting way to save. A card like the Citi Platinum Select MasterCard is a good option for anyone looking to give themselves the gift of debt freedom this holiday season, as it offers 0% on balance transfers for 21 months and does not have an annual fee. Though you’ll have to pay a 3% balance transfer fee, this is still a very good deal.

On the other hand, if your main priority is getting some extra time to pay off your holiday purchases, then the Citi Dividend World MasterCard is a good choice. This card offers 0% on new purchases for 15 months and does not have an annual fee, so as long as you are able to pay off your full balance before this introductory period concludes, you can save big.

Make the most of new benefits for old cards

You don’t necessarily have to open a new credit card in order to benefit this holiday season. American Express, Capital One, Discover, and Chase are all offering a variety of holiday credit card specials (e.g. added rewards on certain types of purchases, rewards redemption specials, and discounts) for existing customers from now until New Year’s. They won’t all be big-time money-savers, but they’re worth looking into.

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