Study shows Americans prefer receiving gift cards over cash

Camille Grochowski | Banner | Gift cards can add up in number after a long time and if one is not to careful, they can spill out into a mess of unused and wasted money.

The best gift you received as a child might stick in your memory for the rest of your life, but in 2020 many Americans want cash or a gift card over traditional gifts. The kicker — many of those gift cards end up wasted and gathering dust.

The personal finance website estimates that American pockets are lined with $21 billion in unused gift cards, with nearly half of the entire population holding an unused gift card.

Over one third of unused gift card owners have no plans to use their gift cards in the future, according to Bankrate’s study.

The finance tracker and the Washington Post conducted a study and found that 61 percent of Americans prefer receiving cash or a gift card to a traditional gift. Interestingly, when it comes to gift-giving, a similar 60 percent would rather not give out virtual cash.

Claire Grady, freshman exercise science major, said she would rather give and receive something tangible and with meaning.

“Maybe you should do a little bit more research,” Grady said. “You should find out what that person really wants.”

Although $21 billion seems like an excruciatingly high number, Josh Dunaj, director of development with the Robert K. Jabs School of Business and University Advancement, said that this amount causes no strain on the economy.

As soon as the gift card is purchased, the last transaction in the exchange of goods has been made. It is then up to the gift card receiver to decide whether or not to consume the product that has been offered to them.

Cami Alvarado, freshman sociology major, said that extra unused money should be given back to the community instead of abandoned.

“We need to keep people accountable for their waste,” Alvarado said.

Dunaj, however, disagreed on the impact of unused gift cards, again saying that the lack of card usage is meaningless in our economy.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s purchased in this economy that goes to waste,” Dunaj said. “Is there a moral component to it? I don’t think so. We’re in a free-market economy where the consumer dictates things.”

For those who have untouched gift cards in their wallets, the secondhand market is booming. As of March 3, eBay sports nearly 9,000 secondhand cards. Other websites such as and offer card resale services. It might be time to dig through old cards and make a few extra dollars.

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