Manufactured Spending

4 Ways to Unload Small Visa Gift Card Balances

It happens to all of us: Despite our best efforts, there will be times when we’re left with Visa gift cards with small balances on them. It may happen when you’re buying money orders and miscalculate the cost of the money order combined with the fee. Perhaps it happens when you use an extra Visa gift card purchased from an office supply stores to round out the cost of a $1,000 money order with  three other $300 Visa gift cards. When it happens, it’s annoying but there are ways to deal with it. Here are four ways to liquidate an excess funds on Visa gift cards:

$500 Visa gift cards are back at OfficeMax!

1. Use them to cover money order fees. There have been times when I’ve been left with a gift card balance as high as $100. In such cases, I’ve continued using the card to pay money order fees. Obviously, this only works if you’re buying money orders in an amount that requires no more than four card swipes. For example, if I’m buying money orders with $300 Visa gift cards, I’ll purchase $999.30. Then I’ll use the extra gift card balance to not only round up my money order purchase, but cover the $0.55 – $0.70 fee. This works out well if you don’t want to buy a money order for $899.45 – $899.30. Or if you have enough change to pay the fee in cash. 

2. Pay bills. For some high balance gift cards, the most practical way to get rid of them (if they’re $100 or less) is to use them for bill payment, make a student loan payment via Plastiq, or anything else along those lines. You may end up with a small balance afterwards, but at least you won’t incur any fees while unloading the balance (unless you use Plastiq to make the payment). Keep in mind some cards have to be registered before you can use them to pay a utility bill.

3. Load them to your Starbucks account. This is my favorite way to unload gift cards during those times when I want to simplify a money order purchase to a whole amount rather than $1,998.60. Requesting a purchase of $1,998 brings the total to $1,999.40. This means I end up with a $0.60 balance on one of my $500 Visa gift cards. The simple solution to this is to just go to my local Starbucks and ask to reload my Starbucks card. The minimum load is $5 but you can split payments. I don’t know what the limit is, but I’ve used well over 10 cards in one transaction at a time. I don’t do this if the store is particularly busy. When I do, I tell the cashier I have a bunch of cards with random balances on them and to just swipe until the amount is covered. 

Surprisingly, I’ve never encountered an attitude from any cashier. They usually don’t mind or are amused by it. This doesn’t happen to me often these days. I do, for the most part, max out all my gift cards so I can just dump them in my center console (and eventually into the recycling bin). If you end up with gift cards that have a ~$5 balance or less, I’d recommend this as a good option for unloading the balance.

4. Use them for regular purchases. At some stores, if your Visa gift card doesn’t have sufficient funds for the entire purchase, your card will decline. At other stores, the available balance will be subtracted from your card and your amount due will be updated accordingly. I’ve found the latter to be true at grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Safeway. If you know any other stores where this is the case, please share in the comment section. I do think its worth swiping your higher balance gift cards (using the debit option) to see if this works at any store you’re shopping at, since it means the balance goes towards a necessary purchase rather than something you may not need (i.e. more funds to spend on bad coffee). 

Those are some of the ways I unload excess Visa gift card balances. If you have any of your own tips to share, I’d love to read about them in the comment section.

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  1. +$5, I load them to my Bluebird account at Walmart.
    -$5, I buy gas.

  2. I like to buy the full amount as an Amazon e-certificate and load it into my Amazon account.

  3. I use small leftover balances to reload my amazon gift card balance. The minimum amount is 50 cents.

  4. I just use them at Wegmans or Target to pay for my regular purchases. Their POS is able to deduct the available balance from the card.

  5. I always have a sharpie handy to write small balance on my VGCs. I bring them to WM to load on a WMGC at the SCO. The least amount it takes as reload is a penny so when I go there when it’s not busy and drain my cards to one GC. I like that there’s no human required that’ll be annoyed with my small load amounts.

  6. I go with Costco. Their system will auto drain, and the cashiers are happy to let you swipe as much as you want.

  7. Here in Houston, HEB grocery stores will easily handle leftover balances; as many as you need to use.

  8. I saw your comments on the picture, “$500 Visa gift cards are back at OfficeMax!”? Doesn’t OfficeMax require Cash Only for those variable loads Visa gift cards since November 2015? Just want to make sure before I decide to embark a trip to OfficeMax.

  9. My local Walmart errors out on vanilla visa gift card (Bancorp Bank) for money orders. Does anyone know how to bypass this problem.

  10. #4 So true. I tried using one of those stupid Staples VGCs at 3 merchants (2 restaurants and even iTunes FFS) and it declined! Thankfully the new ones are Servable.

  11. Feroz Khan

    Hi Ariana,

    I have to meet a $5000 minimum spend requirement on my American Express Gold Reward card. I have already spent $3000 and just need to spend a little less than $2000. Went to your website to see a photo of the gift cards you purchase, but couldn’t find it. Even went to the beginners guide but didn’t see it. Are there specific ones you purchase. Could you please add a photo of the cards you get on your beginners guide page or send me a link. Also, do you know if American Express will consider gift card expense in meeting minimum spend requirements?

    Thanks. Love reading your messages. Wish I lived in California. I would be coming to your coffee shop meetings all the time.


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