TAMPA, Fla. — With more than half of all shoppers purchasing gift cards for the holidays, there’s a good chance you received one - but it's only good as long as you remember to use it.

Here are a few important things to remember:

Check to see what you have

Make sure you know what you’re starting with. You can usually find a dollar amount for the beginning value of the card. If its not printed on the card already, consider using a permanent marker so at least you know what you’re starting with if you decide to use the card months later. Most gift cards also allow you to check the cards balance on-line.

Look for bonuses

Many restaurants and retailers sell gift cards that come with a bonus card as an incentive for the buyer. If they happen to include that bonus card with your gift, check the dates that card can be used. Almost all of these bonus cards expire and many can’t be used until January, making them easy to forget. Many expire in a month or two so don’t forget this free money.

If you don’t have the card, you can’t use it

Make sure you have your gift cards with you when you might possibly use them. Nothing is more frustrating that showing up to a restaurant and not being able to find your gift card. Some experts suggest keeping all your gift cards together in a safe place. Treat them like cash and out of sight of thieves.

Spend wisely

A gift card may seem like free cash that’s burning a hole in your pocket, but don’t be afraid to spend your funds wisely. Consider waiting for a sale or using a coupon with your gift card to get the most bang for your gift card buck.

Consider selling unwanted gift cards

If the gift card is for a store you never go to or worse yet, that store doesn’t exist in your town, consider trading with a friend or utilizing one of the many websites for selling gift cards. You may not get the full cash value, but at least you can spend those funds on something you’ll actually want and use.

And don’t forget
An estimated $1-billion in gift cards went unused in 2015. Don’t let your gift cards collect dust or worse yet get lost. While most don’t expire, there is always the possibility the company that sold the gift card will go out of business or shut down stores in your town.

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