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What to Do with Small Balance on a Gift Card or a Visa® Gift Card

Have a few dollars left on a Visa gift card? Not sure how to use a small balance left over on a store gift card? Here are my tricks for using ANY gift card with a tiny balance.

So Many Questions about Gift Card Balances

I get many questions about gift card balances and how to use the last little bit that’s left over after a major purchase. The answer depends on the type of gift card you have. Store and restaurant gift cards are different from Visa and Mastercard® gift cards, so I have to treat these questions differently. In the blog post below, I’ll answer these main questions:

Questions about Store and Restaurant Gift Card Balances

  1. Can I Return a Store Gift Card that I Don’t Want?
  2. Can I Get Cash Back After I Used Most of the Gift Card?
  3. Which States Require Merchants to Give Cash Back?
  4. How Can I Use a Few Dollars Left on a Store Gift Card?

Questions about Visa Gift Card Balances and Mastercard Gift Card Balances

  1. Can I Return a Visa Gift Card that I Don’t Want?
  2. Can I Cash Out the Small Balance of a Visa Gift Card?
  3. Can I Sell a Visa Gift Card for Cash?
  4. Can I Get Cash Back from a Visa Gift Card?
  5. How Can I Use the Last Few Dollars Left on a Visa Gift Card?

General Questions

  1. What Other Gift Card Hacks Can I Try?
branded gift cards sold at grocery store

1. Can I Return a Store Gift Card that I Don’t Want?

There are not federal or state laws that dictate whether or not a gift card can be returned so it is up to each merchant to set that policy. Most store and restaurant gift cards that I see have terms printed on the card, on the packaging or on a website that say, “This card is non-refundable and non-returnable.”

I have seen, however, that some stores will allow you to return a gift card within a short period of time after purchase so long as you have the purchase receipt and haven’t used the card. Target, for example, has a generous return policy.

The Target.com FAQ says, “Physical Target GiftCards can be returned in store with a receipt if unused” and “Your Target® Visa, Mastercard or American Express® Gift Card can be returned to any Target store with a valid, original-purchase receipt. Your card must be new, unopened, contain all original packaging, and must be returned within 90 days of purchase.”

Still, this is an exception. Even Nordstrom, the department store well-known for having a generous customer return policy says, “Gift Cards may not be returned or applied as payment on any account.”

If you have a store gift card that you’d like to return, check the back of the gift card for terms and conditions, check the retailer’s website for information or drop by the store to ask.

If you are willing to accept less than face value for the gift card, then you could sell it to a gift card reseller for cash instead.

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2. Can I Get Cash Back After I Used Most of the Gift Card?

In some states, if the balance of a store-issued gift card falls below a certain threshold, the merchant is required to redeem the gift card for cash upon request. In California, for example, a gift card under $10 can be refunded. In Maine and New Jersey, the limit is only $5. In both cases, the gift card balance must previously have been above the balance threshold.

Please note, the rules do not apply to gift cards that were received via donation or as part of a reward, loyalty or promotional program. These rules do not apply to Visa or Mastercard gift cards either.

How to get the gift card balance back in cash: Use the list below–state laws that require merchants to cash out gift cards–to find out if your state requires stores and restaurants to give cash back when gift card balances drop. If so, then pay attention to the transaction when you redeem your gift card. If the balance falls below the cut-off line, ask the cashier to pay you the balance of the gift card in cash. Some will do it automatically and others will have to call the store manager to find out how to do it.

Mind you, I’ve never walked away empty-handed when I know the gift card law, but I do sometimes have to explain the law and other times I have to wait. If this happens to you, be patient. Few people ask to get the money off of their gift cards so clerks might not know how to perform the transaction. Also, you can ask for the cash back at any time. You don’t have to remember to ask when first redeeming the gift card. Next time you’re in the store, ask the cashier to cash out your small value gift card.

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3. Which States Require Merchants to Give Cash Back for Gift Cards?

I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice, but from my research, the states below require merchants to give cash back upon request if the gift card value falls below the state-mandated amount. Links to each state’s gift card laws are provided so you can study the state gift card laws in your own state to be sure.

StateGift Card Balance ThresholdGift Card Cashback Law
CaliforniaLess than $10California State Gift Card Law: In California, any card with a cash value less than $10 may be redeemed for cash upon request. This rule applies to store gift cards, but not bank-issued gift cards that can be used anywhere.
Colorado$5 or LessColorado State Gift Card Law: In Colorado, any card with a cash value of $5 or less may be redeemed for cash upon request. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, promotional cards, bank-issued gift cards or paper gift certificates.
ConnecticutLess than $3Connecticut State Gift Card Law: In Connecticut, a gift card may be redeemed for cash when the balance is less than $3.00 after a purchase and the consumer requests the gift card be redeemed for cash. The cash redemption requirement only applies when the consumer requesting cash provides either the proof of purchase receipt or the gift receipt for the gift card
MaineLess than $5Maine State Gift Card Law: In Maine, gift and reward cards with a cash value of less than $5 may be redeemed for cash upon request. This rule does not apply to cards with an initial value of $5 or less, prepaid phone cards, promotional cards, bank-issued gift cards, cards issued for merchandise credit, paper gift certificates.
MassachusettsNon-reloadable: Less than 10% of the Value
Reloadable: Less than $5
Massachusetts State Gift Card Law: In Massachusetts, if the gift card is NOT reloadable and 90% or more of the gift card value has been redeemed, a merchant must give the consumer the choice between receiving cash OR maintaining the remaining balance on the card. If the gift card is reloadable (the holder can add value to the card), the merchant must still give the consumer the option to receive the remaining balance of the gift card if the value is $5 or less. This rule applies to one-time use and reloadable gift cards, but does not apply to prepaid phone cards or bank-issued gift cards.
MontanaLess than $5Montana State Gift Card Law: In Montana, gift cards with a cash value of less than $5 may be redeemed for cash upon request if the original value of the card was more than $5. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, reward cards, loyalty cards or bank-issued gift cards.
New JerseyLess than $5New Jersey State Gift Card Law: In New Jersey, gift cards with a cash value of less than $5 may be redeemed for cash upon request if the original value of the card was more than $5. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, bank-issued gift cards or cards issued for merchandise credit.
OregonLess than $5Oregon State Gift Card Law: In Oregon, gift cards with a cash value of less than $5 that have been used at least once may be redeemed for cash upon request. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, promotional gift cards or gift cards redeemed online.
Puerto RicoLess than $5Puerto Rico Gift Card Law: In Puerto Rico, gift cards with a balance of $5 or less can be claimed from the issuer or the card in cash. This rule does not apply to certificates issued on paper, telecommunication prepaid cards, open loop gift cards, reloadable cards that are not marketed or identified as a gift card, or cards issued as part of a price or promotional program and that do not require disbursement of monies in exchange.
Rhode IslandLess than $1Rhode Island State Gift Card Law: In Rhode Island, gift cards with a cash value of less than $1 after being used may be redeemed for cash upon request. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, reward cards, loyalty cards or bank-issued gift cards.
TexasLess than $2.50Texas State Gift Card Law: In Texas, retailers must provide cash redemption on gift cards that have a value of less than $2.50. The law only applies to gift cards used to make in-person purchases (i.e., not online). The cash redemption is not required if the initial value was $5 or less and the customer couldn’t add value to the card. This rule does not apply to prepaid phone cards, reward cards, loyalty cards or bank-issued gift cards.
VermontLess than $1Vermont State Gift Card Law: In Vermont, unused portions of expired gift cards may be redeemed for cash upon request. Gift cards with a cash value of less than $1 may also be redeemed for cash.
WashingtonLess than $5Washington State Gift Card Law: In Washington, gift cards with a cash value of less than $5 may be redeemed for cash upon request.

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Subway gift card with $3.19 written on it

4. How Can I Use a Few Dollars Left on a Store Gift Card?

If the balance does not fall below the state-mandated threshold or your state does not require cashing out miniscule gift cards, then the only thing to do is simply use the gift card.

If you can, use the entirety of the gift card balance when you first redeem the gift card. That’s the easiest thing to do. If your intended purchase does not exceed the balance, look for a small item near the cash register to push you over the limit. Though I’m not suggesting you spend the money frivilously, I do believe that it is better to buy something in the moment than to let the tiny balance go to waste–which is what it seems most people do.

I keep my gift cards next to the debit and credit cards I use most often. So whenever I am in a store, I am reminded that I have gift cards to spend. Here are my other tricks for remembering to use gift cards.

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high dollar value visa gift cards

5. Can I Return a Visa Gift Card that I Don’t Want?

Similar to store gift cards, the answer is generally no. However, a few stores may allow it. As noted above, Target will allow you to return a Target Visa, Mastercard or American Express gift card if you have the original purchase receipt, the gift card is unopened, all of the packaging is in tact and the card hasn’t been used. I think this is an exception, however.

At GiftCards.com, for example, neither store nor bank-issued gift cards cannot be returned. The Best Buy Onlne Help Center says, “Other nonreturnable purchases include…prepaid cards (including third-party gift cards)…”. And Kroger, one of many grocery store chains that sells prepaid cards says, “Once a gift card has been purchased and shipped the card is not refundable.”

If you are the purchaser of a Visa gift card that you no longer want, check the terms and conditions on the card or packaging, look for a gift card return policy on the card issuer’s website or go back to the store to inquire about their gift card return policy in person. In most cases, I do not believe a Visa or Mastercard gift card can be returned, but if Target is willing to do it, perhaps other stores are as well.

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small balance left on visa gift card

6. Can I Cash Out the Small Balance of a Visa Gift Card?

State gift card laws that require merchants to cash out gift cards once the balance falls below a threshold do not apply to bank-issued gift cards such as Visa, Mastercard or American Express. In my opinion, however, it is pretty easy to use the miniscule balance on a Visa or Mastercard gift card in most places. Here’s what I do:

Step 1: Keep Gift Cards Handy I carry my gift cards next to the debit and credit cards I use most often. Doing so prompts me to consider whether or not I can use a gift card whenever I reach into my wallet.

Step 2: Know the Balance Although not necessary, I check the balance of my gift cards so I know how much I have to spend. Many point of sale systems can deduct the balance of a gift card without knowing how much is on the card, but I have found that some older models will simply decline a card if the balance is less than the full amount of my purchase. Having the balance handy helps ensure the card is run correctly.

Step 3: Tell the Cashier Before handing over the gift card, I tell the cashier that I would like to use more than one form of payment for my purchase. I might say something like, “I have a Visa gift card with a couple of dollars left on it that I would like to use first. Then I’ll pay the balance with another card. Is that ok?” This gives the cashier a heads-up in case the system has issues with “split-tender transactions.”

As shown in the video above, I almost always end up using the small balance of my gift cards at Target. It definitely works at other stores, but it works flawlessly at Target every time.

The last time I used several small balance Visa gift cards in a single transaction, the Target cashier even showed me how to process the cards myself at the self check-out stand. This is a perfect solution for people who throw gift cards away because they are too embarrassed to use them when the balance is less than a dollar.

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7. Can I Sell a Visa Gift Card for Cash?

I have seen a few websites that say they convert Visa gift cards to cash, but I have not used any of them myself nor do I know who backs these companies. Since the reputable gift card resellers that I typically work with do not buy or sell Visa gift cards, I don’t feel comfortable making a recommendation to do so at this time.

You could, I suppose, sell your Visa gift card to a friend or family member who you trust.

Rather than sell the Visa gift card for cash, however, I suggest “converting” it in a different way. Here’s what I do:

When I receive a Visa gift card, I store it in my wallet next to the debit and credit cards I use most often. When I reach into my wallet to pay for something, I am reminded to use the Visa gift card. I do this until the balance is used up. A Visa gift card with a small balance might get used quickly at a restaurant the next time I go out to eat. A Visa gift card with more money on it might get used to pay for groceries, gas, a co-pay at the doctor and more.

Although I don’t “cash out” the gift card using this strategy, it feels like I did because I used the gift card to pay for things that normally would have come out of my checking account.

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8. Can I Get Cash Back from a Visa Gift Card?

In my experience, banks will decline transactions that are deemed “cash.” That means you can’t use a Visa gift card at an ATM nor can you take it to a cash register and ask for “cash back.” I have tried it myself to see if it will work, but the transaction declines every time.

In general, you cannot use Visa gift cards and Mastercard gift cards on peer-to-peer payment apps like PayPal or Venmo either. Though I have heard of people working these systems (sending money to themselves, for example), loopholes that may have previously existed are now closed.

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9. How Can I Use the Last Few Dollars Left on a Visa Gift Card?

Think you’re stuck with a Visa gift card that only has a few dollars on it? Think you can’t use a Mastercard gift card once the balance is less than the transaction? Think again. In either case, the gift card is usable. But you may have to take a couple of extra steps to redeem the full value of the gift card.

As explained above and in the video at the top of this blog post, I do it all the time. The key is to keep the gift cards handy so you remember to use them, know the balance of the cards and tell the cashier that you need to use more than one form of payment for the transaction.

Here’s the video once more:

Now VIRTUAL Visa egift cards and Mastercard egift cards are another story. Because these gift cards have to be used online, the steps are different.

Here’s how to use the small balance on a VIRTUAL Visa eGift Cards Online.

 

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10. What Other Gift Card Hacks Can I Try?

If you really feel stuck with a gift card that has almost no money on it, don’t give up hope or just throw the card away. (Too many people do that!) Try this list below to see if one of the suggestions is a better fit for you:

Ask the Cashier While your state may not require merchants to cash out gift cards, some stores have adopted the policy anyway. When using a gift card, ask the cashier if you can have the balance in cash. You might be surprised.

Buy something more. This isn’t my favorite choice, but I would rather spend a few extra dollars than hold onto a bothersome balance that I may forget to use or get tired of carrying in my wallet. When at the cash register, throw a pack of gum on the conveyor belt or add a candy bar to the total. Spend as little as possible to get above the gift card balance so the card will be fully redeemed.

Apply it to your account. If the merchant allows you to add a gift card to your online account before redeeming it, then simply redeem the card, add the balance, and apply it to a future purchase. Amazon and iTunes both work this way. You can redeem a gift card and then just chip away at the balance every time you make a purchase until the money is gone.

Use a small Visa gift card balance in a big store. Big stores seem better equipped to handle multiple forms of payment. Just like I have always had a positive experience at Target, I’ve also been told that my Visa gift card didn’t work when I tried to use it at a little restaurant. The decline can happen because the cashier is inexperienced, the point of sale system is old or any number of things. But big stores that handle the gamut of transactions seem unphased by my three gift cards that all add up to two dollars.

Buy a Store gift card with a Visa gift card. Though many retailers will not allow you to buy a store gift card with a store gift card, they may allow you to buy a store gift card with a Visa gift card. I’ve done this both online and in stores.

On many occasions, I have purchased Amazon.com egift cards using small Visa gift card balances. For example, if I have $3.71 left on a Visa card, I can use it to buy a $3.71 Amazon egift card ON the Amazon.com site. (Note: this only works if you buy directly from Amazon and the dollar amounts are the same.) When the Amazon egift card arrives, I redeem it and apply it to my account. Next time I make a purchase, I apply the saved funds.

Donate the balance. For some merchants, a “minuscule” amount may still be double-digits if you can’t redeem the balance without spending a great deal more money. If you have a gift card worth $15 or more, donate the unused portion to charity through Cardpool’s association with Compassion International, a Christian child development organization that assists children who are living in poverty. Check to see if your gift card qualifies at CardFunder.com.

Although it is best (or I should say easiest) to use the full value of a gift card the first time you redeem it, I think it is worth trying to use small remaining balance of a gift card at any time.

If you have more questions about gift cards or about using the tiny, miniscule balance of a gift card, let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@GCGirlfriend) or on Instagram (@Gift.Card.Girlfriend).

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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