Why You Should Save Pre-Paid Gift Cards Even After You Spend Them

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Lula Poggi)

Most of us make a habit of throwing out pre-paid debit and credit cards once we’ve spent them, but believe it or not, they might actually be worth hanging on to. Turns out that even when they’re empty, Visa gift cards and the like, can still be useful; for reasons you probably never thought of.

So before you cut and toss all the depleted pre-paid debit and credit cards you’re gifted this season, read ahead for a few reasons why you should consider saving them instead.

You can use them as “dummy” cards when you want to sign up for a free trial.

We’ve all been there. You’re signing up for a free trial of something online and right before you’re in the clear—they ask for a credit card number so they can charge you the second your free trial expires. Instead of setting an annoying calendar reminder so you don’t forget to cancel, try entering the info from one of your empty or near-empty pre-paid gift cards to seal the deal. Not only will you spare yourself from an unwanted charge, using a dummy card in place of your real one means you won’t have to worry about the company having any of your personal info once the free trial period has finished.

It’s also a better-safe-than-sorry move.

If you think saving your receipt is enough to issue a refund on a purchase you made with a pre-paid card, then think again. Apartment Therapy editor Taryn Williford knows first-hand what happens when a return is refunded to pre-paid credit card that’s already been thrown away.

“I think most stores are pretty good about asking you which card you want to refund your purchase to when you return things, but I once had my refund returned back to a Visa gift card that I’d thrown away. I had split the initial total purchase between the Visa gift card and my usual debit card, and when I went to return a book I’d bought and changed my mind on, the money went back onto the Visa — which I’d tossed by then — instead of my debit card. I didn’t realize it until a few days after the return when I looked at the receipt after wondering why the money hadn’t hit my checking account yet. What a bummer that was. No money AND no book.”

The same goes for rebates.

Sometimes, rebates from major retailers are issued in the form of pre-paid credit and debit cards, making them easy to spend (and toss once they’re empty). Consumerist.com has a cautionary tale about a woman in Cleveland who received a rebate from Best Buy in the form of two $20 prepaid Visa cards, which she subsequently used to pay for a $42.68 purchase at the electronics retailer:

“The customer subsequently returned the purchase to Best Buy, but didn’t realize until later that her credit card had only been refunded the $2.68 she’d gone out-of-pocket for the transaction. The remaining $40 had been credited to the account numbers of the two prepaid cards she’d use to make the purchase . . . After the customer noticed that the $40 had been refunded to cards she no longer had in her possession, Best Buy decided to provide her with a gift card for that amount. Of course, unlike prepaid debit cards she can only use that money at Best Buy.”

Let this be a lesson to us all: Even though they’re empty, hang on to the seemingly worthless pre-paid cards you’re gifted this holiday. It could save you from an unnecessary charge down the line or worse, losing a refund.