Although I rarely carry cash in my wallet these days, doing everything “cashless” has some challenges. A huge pet peeve of mine is increasing use of VISA or MasterCard gift cards. As I type this, I’m staring at a pile of them on my desk, all of them partially used.
What is the problem with people giving you money, you ask? It’s not the gift card that’s the problem, it’s using the entire gift card that is tricky. If you haven’t already figured-out the issue, let me explain…
Someone buys you a $50 VISA gift card. Yippee! In your excitement, you can finally buy that special widget you’ve always wanted and it happens to only cost $45.23 after shipping and tax. Win! After the purchase, your gift card has a balance of $4.67. Like many people, you’ll need nothing that only costs $4.67 and so you’ll likely forget you even have the gift card. Time goes by and the card eventually expires. So what happened to the balance on the card? Basically, you just gave VISA a little free gift at your expense.
In the perfect world, all retailers would allow for what is called “split tender” which would permit you two use more than one form of payment to make a purchase. However, it’s been my experience that few retailers allow for this online, although quite a few do in their brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, it becomes really hard to spend those last few dollars on your gift cards on something you actually want versus just spending on things you don’t really want like a packet of gum. Repeat this scenario enough times and you’ll start to give away a considerable amount of money.
I’ve found two solutions to the partial balance problem that work reasonably well: PayPal and Amazon.
I’ve become somewhat of a fan of PayPal because it allows me to check-out quickly when making online purchases and know that I’m not disclosing my credit card number to every retailer I purchase from. In addition, PayPal can provides buyer protection for purchases made through potentially shady sellers, like on Craigslist.
PayPal makes it possible to purchase using a split tender… kind of. If you add a partially spent gift card to your PayPal account and use it as the primary payment method, PayPal will use your PayPal balance to make-up the difference if your total purchase exceeds the gift card balance. However, that’s where PayPal is less than ideal in that you need to have a PayPal balance for this to work. If you have no PayPal balance and you exceed the gift card balance, your purchase will be declined.
The biggest annoyance with this solution is that it takes several days to transfer money from your bank account to PayPal in order to carry a balance. If you want to buy an item right now that exceeds your gift card balance but you have no PayPal balance, you’re out of luck unless you want to wait several days to transfer money from your bank.
A work-around for this might be to get a PayPal MasterCard which I think allows you to use it as a secondary funding source. For me, however, I don’t want another credit card to manage.
Amazon Gift Card Balance
I recently discovered that you can refill your Amazon gift card balance using any credit card, which includes partially used gift cards. All you have to do is add the gift card to your account, then go to the gift card page and add the exact amount left on that gift card to your Amazon gift card balance. When making purchases through Amazon, the default is to use your Amazon gift card balance first, followed by your other preferred payment method, which is a split tender.
While I’ve been trying hard to not buy everything through Amazon, having a balance in my Amazon account will surely get spent and is so far the best solution I’ve found for getting a $0.00 balance on all my gift cards.
Do you have another solution for using every last cent of a VISA or MasterCard gift card balance? If so, post your solution in the comments below and I’ll add it to this post.