When is a $50 gift card only worth $40? When you want to get rid of it.
Several sites now let consumers buy and sell unwanted gift cards, including cards that are partially used. How much cash you're offered by a site will depend largely on the retailer you're hocking.
For a popular store — think Target or Walmart — you can get as much as 90 percent of its value.
The sites then resell the cards for a profit. But prices still are less than the cards' face value to make the offer attractive for buyers.
The idea of selling any unwanted gift cards may have crossed your mind recently, as new regulations on gift card fees and expiration dates are set to go into effect Aug. 22.
Three sites — Cardpool.com, GiftCardRescue.com and PlasticJungle.com — act as middlemen so you never deal with other consumers. You always buy and sell directly from the sites.
They have a lot in common and even offer similar rates. But it's a good idea to browse each site to compare deals on a particular card, whether you're looking to buy or sell.
Here's how the cards work.
All three sites make it easy to get price quotes for unwanted gift cards. You type in the retailer and card value, then click for an instant offer.
Cardpool and Plastic Jungle only accept cards with at least $25 on them. GiftCardRescue has a $15 minimum.
So which cards sell closest to face their value?
The cards that have a broad appeal and high utility, perhaps to buy groceries or gas, said Kristin Donelson of Plastic Jungle.
For example, Plastic Jungle offers 92 percent cash back for a Target gift card and 90 percent for a Walmart card. The cards are then resold for 97 percent and 96 percent of their face value, respectively.
All three sites offer 5 percent more if you accept an Amazon gift card as payment. Cardpool and Plastic Jungle also let sellers donate their sales to charity.
To sell your card, you must open an account with the site. You're then responsible for safely mailing the gift card to the company, so you might want to insure the package or get a tracking number. Only Plastic Jungle offers a prepaid shipping label for sellers, but extras such as insurance are up to you.
Your payment is sent once the card is received.
The sites also can be good places to get gift cards at a discount.
Cards are listed so you can quickly see their value and sale price. For example, you might see that a $100 Starbucks card is going for $88. There are no tax, fees or shipping costs, so buyers only pay the sale price.
Cardpool and Plastic Jungle only buy and sell cards that have no fees or expiration dates. GiftCardRescue requires that expiration date be at least six months away.
This shouldn't be too much of a concern, however, because gift cards to major retailers usually don't have expiration dates. And starting Aug. 22, a new law will ban expiration dates on all gift cards for at least five years after they're purchased.
Inactivity fees will only be permitted if the card hasn't been used for at least a year.
Of course, fraud is always a concern too. You might worry that the original seller wrote down the card number to sap its value later.
This was more of a problem when GiftCardRescue first launched in 2008, said Kwame Kuadey, the site's founder. Since then, however, he said fraud prevention measures have dramatically reduced incidents. He declined to provide details for competitive reasons.
Donelson of Plastic Jungle also said fraud is rarely an issue anymore. And all three sites offer money-back guarantees anyway. Still, if the possibility of fraud worries you, stick with cards you know you'll use immediately.
Finally, you might not want to use the sites to shop for presents. That's because you won't know what shape the cards will be in before you buy them. Or it may arrive with a picture that gives away that it's secondhand. For example, if you're buying a gift card for a wedding this summer, you wouldn't want a card bearing a Christmas theme.