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Using Visa, Mastercard gift cards to pay off bills

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The gifts have been unwrapped. The holiday money has been stored into wallets and purses. And recipients have probably started returning all the unwanted gifts they fake-smiled at before really grinning at the gift receipts.

But what happens with the $2 to $3.5 billion gift cards that go unused in recent years? And how can that number of unused money be utilized? Try paying off some bills and living expenses instead.

There are many companies that don't take gift cards as payment. For example, if you're part of the rush of people trying to hurry up and pay for health or dental insurance through the Affordable Care Act program, you may have noticed that gift cards, such as the Vanilla Visa, aren't accepted with medical sites, such as Humana. But maybe you can use your health savings account (HSA) Visa card instead.

You may not be able to pay your mortgage, condominium or apartment expenses with your gift cards, but how about using money set aside for groceries with gift cards instead? Got a big grocery list? Take advantage of those Target, Whole Foods Market and Jewel Osco gift cards. Use the dead presidents to pay a cash expense instead.

Is there something you think is selling big on Ebay or GoHastings and other sites that sell brand new to used products? You don't want it, but somebody else probably does. Purchase those products in stores. Then repost them online to make a profit, and pay a smaller bill, such as a monthly credit card payment.

Are you paying for the rental of a DVR player with your cable bill? What for? You have the electronics gift card to Best Buy. Buy your own TIVO or DVR player and save money on the monthly rates.

Is your heating bill out of control? Use those gift cards to purchase space heaters and turn the thermostat down.

Is there a fashionable lamp you've been checking out in furniture stores? Compare the price of using those lamps versus burning up your electricity bill with bright lights all over your home.

Are you racing to work to use a computer program that you wish you had at home? Check out prices in electronics stores. Maybe you could save some money on transportation by getting it yourself. For those who are self-employed, there will never be too many stacks of printer paper, ink cartridges or a handy printer.

You may be struggling on car payments and your dealer won't accept gift cards, but at least you can use those gift cards for a tune-up, oil change or to get other minor car repairs fixed that accept gift cards. You're already paying the car note. May as well make sure your car is in tip-top shape.

And if all else fails, try using cash-for-gift-card sites, such as CardCash.com, to see if you can get some money back for a gift card you probably won't use.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all her latest Chicago finance, employment and savings tips, or subscribe to her Chicago Personal Finance channel at the top of this page.

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