Now that the stockings are emptied and packages all opened, it's time to brace yourself to go back out into the shopping bustle to start in on returns, exchanges and gift card spending. I was just passing the mall yesterday and couldn’t believe how packed the parking lot was. Shoppers toting an estimated $23.6 billion in gift cards will return to stores this week to scoop up discounted holiday leftovers and new regular-price goods. Gift card sales have increase by 10% since 2010. For shoppers with gift cards in their hot hands, here are a few street-smart recommendations to get the shopping over with wisely:
• Shop on a Tuesday because it's the slowest shopping day of the week.
• When it comes to gift cards, be wary of expiration dates, especially after activation.
• Since the economy is still rough, be aware of stores that might go belly up.
• A safe bet is an American Express or Visa gift card, which can be used anywhere. But these cards generally have a "valid through" date that's printed on the card. After that date you will have to call the issuer of the card and request a replacement. This might work.
• There are also fees. Credit issuer gift cards often charge monthly maintenance fees after a year of activity.
• You can sell us your unused gift cards but be very careful. Donating your gift cards with small balances (or unused cards) to a church or organization is one way to get the most from your cards.
$41 billion has been lost or is likely to go unspent in cards issued from 2005 to date, according to The Wall Street Journal, don’t add to total.

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