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Smart Buying

Use 'em or Lose 'em

Gift cards are friendlier, as long as you remember to spend them.

Odds are you collected a handful of gift cards over the holidays. When the tally is in, we’ll have spent $87 billion on gift cards in 2009, according to consultant Tower Group. We’ll spend $90 billion in 2010.

New consumer-friendly rules, which take effect in August courtesy of the Credit CARD Act, will put a big dent in fees that until then may nibble away at the value of gift cards lying unused in the back of your drawer. You’ll soon have a year to spend the card before fees kick in, for instance, and the card won’t be able to expire before five years. But nothing will sabotage the value of your gift card more than not spending it. Some $5 billion remained in limbo on unused gift cards last year, according to the Tower Group.

Can’t spend it? Don’t want it? Trade it for cash or for a more appealing card at sites such as or Plastic Jungle will pay 90% of the value of an gift card, for instance. At you’ll find the best deals on cards from big-box retailers, such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target. Enter your card’s info on the Web site to get an offer. Card Hub has set up a fee-free, swap-meet-style exchange through Facebook to buy and sell gift cards. Visit