How to sell unwanted gift cards

Gift cards were among the most popular presents this holiday season, accounting for nearly $30 billion in holiday spending -- an all-time record, according to the National Retail Federation.

The idea behind gift cards, of course, is to avoid gifting gaffes like those that have led to the birth of  "ugly sweater parties" every holiday season. Yet, even gift cards can prove disappointing when a recipient's taste changes, leaving him with a wallet full of plastic cash that only be spent at Best Buy when what he really wanted was something from Sur La Table.

Fortunately, no one needs to be stuck with an unsuitable gift card. There's a brisk resale market for plastic cash and a simple three-step process to trade an unwanted gift card  for something you'd use -- like real money, according to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.

Start at GiftCardGranny.com, Kiplinger's suggests. The site aggregates gift card offers, showing which of the many gift card resale sites will offer you the best deal. Typically, you'll take at least a 10 percent haircut on the value of popular gift cards, such as those from Best Buy and Costco. Some gift cards return far less. Try to trade a card to Corner Bakery, for instance, and you're likely to get just 50 percent of the face value.

You'll also need to decide whether you want to trade for cash or another gift card. Some sites offer a better deals if you’'re willing to swap your unwanted card for a credit at Amazon.

After that, it's just a matter of clicking through to the site offering the best deal and following the instructions. Many gift card sales can be transacted completely online, however some sites require you to send your gift card via snail mail.

It's worth mentioning that you can also buy discounted gift cards, so if you took a loss on the one you sold, you might be able to win it back by buying another that you like better.

However, let the trading also remind you as a gift-giver that nothing spends quite as easily as cash. If you're buying a gift and don't know what the recipient might want, forgo the plastic and just give money. 

Editor's note: Kathy Kristof is a regular Kiplinger's contributor.