The Credit Cards, MetroCard and More to Organize Your Wallet (How Does Yours Compare to Alexa’s?)

Libby Kane
Posted

If you are anything like us, your wallet is brimming with tons of things, from colorful plastic to outdated receipts to business cards from places you can’t remember. And, it’s ripe for some straightening out.

We’re following the example of LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel, who has helped us narrow down our list of expert-approved wallet essentials:

What Not to Include

Don’t walk around with personal information like your PIN, account numbers, or Social Security card. The only identifying info in there should be your name and the best way to reach you if your wallet is found.

Credit Card

You should have two credit cards to your name, but keep only one in your wallet. In your wallet, keep the main one that you do all your spending on; keep your emergency credit card hidden away in a desk drawer at home so that you won’t be stranded if your wallet gets lost or stolen. For the same reason, always make copies of your cards! They’ll come in handy if one of those cards disappears. Also, if your main card is an American Express, make sure that your debit card is Visa or MasterCard so that your plastic will be accepted wherever you go. If you have more than two credit cards, cancel only one each year (it hurts your credit score to cancel too many at once).

Cash

We aim to carry around $25 to $50 at all times. Although any loss of cash is a blow, the goal is to keep little enough that we won’t, say, have trouble paying rent if we lose our wallet, but enough to split a restaurant bill with friends (there are always groans when too many people insist on paying via credit card).

A.T.M./Debit Card

You should always have access to your checking account, just in case you’re in a bind and need extra cash on the go.

Personal Identification

For most people, this will take the form of a driver’s license. Stores have the right to ask for an ID when you use a credit card, so you need to have one ready to show them.

Insurance Card

Always. You’ll need your health insurance on hand for any medical services, and your auto insurance card in case you get into a fender bender.

Transportation Card

If you use public transportation to commute to work, keep an unlimited transportation card in your wallet, which often saves a lot of money over buying individual rides. In Boston, it’s a CharlieCard. In New York, MetroCard. In D.C., SmarTrip. If you drive to work every day, this includes your AAA card, which you should have with you at all times if you’re a member.

Discount Club Cards

This includes your CVS card, Regal card, promotional tenth-coffee-free cards, and anything else that fits the bill. There’s nothing worse than stopping by a store and realizing that you’ve left your gift card at home.

Membership Cards

This includes things that have already been paid for, like a gym membership card.

Airline Cards

This is optional, but recommended—Alexa carries around her airline cards so that she never forgets to use her frequent flyer number whenever she travels.

LV Tip: If you’re a) an iPhone user and b) don’t want to stuff your wallet with a million cards, consider this iPhone app.

To take a peek inside Alexa’s wallet, watch the video below! What does YOUR wallet look like? Tell us in the comments!

  • kodemonki

    Why only two credit cards? Won't decreasing the number of cards we have negatively impact our credit to debt ratio?

    • Alexa

      Yes, it is true that decreasing your number of credit cards drastically is not good for your finances.

      You can only cancel ONE credit card a year (LearnVest shows you exactly how to do this)– so don't cancel them all at once! If you have tons of credit cards we recommend you cancel one you never use (and then put the ones you'd like to cancel in a drawer at home with a post-it-note on them for 1 year from today, with a reminder on your calendar. You can then cancel one every year until you are organized…) Ideally you would only have ~2 credit cards in the end — and you would have a main one that you use – so that all of your bills go to one place, and you can earn things like points/cash back on it.

      Again, this is ONLY is you have your spending under control and not likely to over spend on a credit card. Credit card debt is the WORST THING for your finances.

      • kodemonki

        That still doesn't answer my question though. Why should you only have two cards? With two cards, let's say my credit to debt ratio is 10:1, but with 10 cards it could be 50:1. If you can use credit appropriately and never get into debt, why should someone only have two cards? My question is less about canceling cards and more about the ratio.

        • Alexa

          You are totally correct about the ratio. EXAMPLE–> It's obviously best if your credit line is $10,000 ($5,000 on 2 cards) and that you only have say a bill of $500. 1:20 debt to available credit.

          On the number of cards, I think the most important point here is that opening many credit cards and having multiple credit inquiries can hurt your credit score. If you apply for 20 credit cards and then try to apply for a mortgage, a mortgage lender is not going to be thrilled that you have so many inquiries on your credit report.

          Having less credit cards, also means:
          1.) you have better organized spending (less bills on less cards)
          2.) have less open lines of credit that can be stolen potentially through ID theft
          3.) finally, just gives you less to keep track of.

          If for some reason you really love 3 cards, that's no biggy, but we strongly do not recommend having 4-12 credit cards, as some people do!

          Make sense?

          • kodemonki

            Some of that makes sense. Over 10 years I've acquired about seven or so cards and they all have their place (pruning and constant management are always prudent though). I still think there's a huge difference between applying for 20 cards all at once (credit suicide) and responsibly using x cards gained over y years. Here's my breakdown:

            CapitalOne – International travel; no great rewards, but no currency conversion fees (also, you can put cute pictures of place you travel to on them)
            Costo AmEx – Costco
            BP Visa – Gas
            Chase Freedom – Everything else
            Citibank – Emergency

            I guess what doesn't make sense is that in some places you say that the lower debt credit ratio the better, but here you seem to be saying the opposite when you recommend canceling cards.

          • Lauren Lyons Cole

            Hi kodemonki, I'm Lauren, LearnVest's financial planner in residence. Thanks for your thoughtful comments! Managing credit is obviously an important financial topic, and we're here to help at every stage of the journey. Sounds like you've got a great handle on your credit cards. For someone who is still learning about using credit (and for many old pros as well), two cards is a great rule of thumb. As Alexa pointed out, this is the best bet for most people who are building or maintaining an excellent credit score.

            We're not saying you should necessarily close your cards cards, but sometimes it is necessary. If so, we recommend closing no more than one per year.

            I agree with Alexa's points on keeping fewer cards to stay better organized. Especially with the risk of identity theft, there's a lot to be said for streamlining our credit cards these days. However, if you feel comfortable keeping track of multiple cards and are paying your bills in full and on time each month, we don't think you need to start closing accounts. For most people, though, two cards is the way to go.

            One more quick comment: Make sure to have an emergency fund in addition to (or better yet, instead of) your Citibank card.

            Thanks again, kodemonki. I hope this has answered your question!

          • SoCal Lawyer

            Another important reason not to have so many credit cards is that with all the changes in credit card laws intended to protect consumers, many credit card companies have created “inactivity fees” if you don't use your cards often enough. With too many credit cards, it is hard to be sure you are using them all often enough not to get charged. Be sure to read through those pesky details sent by your credit card companies to see if they have initiated this type of fee.

          • kodemonki

            It did indeed, thanks! As for organization, I use Mint.com, which keeps track of all of my credit cards and when they're due and they send me email reminders (as do my credit card companies) so keeping track has never been an issue.

            I do have an emergency fund, but I'm almost way too nervous to use it. The last time I had a mini emergency I ended up taking half out of play money and have from the emergency fund!

            Thanks for all your excellent advice!

            As a side note, the links in the emails for this thread don't work. http://disq.us/g7mr4 takes me to a page that doesn't exist.

          • Lauren Lyons Cole

            You're very welcome kodemonki. Keep up the great work you're doing managing your personal finances! If you have any other questions, you can always reach us at feedback@learnvest.com. We're here to help!

            (Thanks for the side note about the comment link. We'll check that out.)

  • AJ

    Wow! What a helpful list and video! Now I just have to go see what's actually in my wallet…

  • MH

    The word “receipts” has a “p” in it.

    Also agree to an extent w kodemonki: credit score is impacted by the extent to which you make use of available credit card lines. So you want to have high aggregate credit limit and draw on it little.

    • Alexa

      agreed. that's correct! Thanks for the post!

  • Elastigirl

    I have a J. Crew rewards card, a Starbucks rewards card, and a couple for frozen yogurt/ice cream shops. Is it worth it to have these, if I use them frequently but not TOO frequently? I'm aware that carrying these rewards cards increases the chances of me making purchases I wouldn't make otherwise…

    What's everyone else's opinion on this?

    • Vpohle

      You can keep them in your car, like in your glove compartment, and then when you go to that store, you can pull them out and then they aren’t in your wallet all the time taking up space.  Hope that helps! Val

  • Tbowland

    Other things I keep in my wallet:

    A small index card with the correct ink numbers for my printer – I buy alot of ink but also change printers regularly. This way I avoid buying the wrong ink and avoid a return trip to get the correct ones.

    Funny but true – A 4″ cardboard ruler – when I go to buy shoes and I want to make sure they are under my limit (usually 2.5 – 3 ” for the heel) this ruler has helped me out numerous times. It has become a joke among my friends but it has saved my feet at important events and helped me to avoid returning those 4″ heels that always kill me after an hour or two!

    Professional association cards – I have 7 professional cards that need to be with me at all times. As a physician – these are a requirement.

    Lastly – a couple of bandaids for those nasty papercuts!

    All of the above are small, lightweight and very handy for me. Hope this helps!

    • Raanah

      Hi Tbowland,nnThanks so much for sharing with us how you keep your wallet! If you want to be eligible to win a brand new wallet from Target, post your tips and a picture of your wallet to our Facebook page: http://facebook.com/learnvest nnBest,nRaanah- LearnVest Social Media Intern

  • Rap

    What is in my wallet? I am 52 years old, and this is what I carry in a man's wallet (never liked the bulky ladies' wallets:
    Amex card for business expenditures; Visa for personal expenditures; driver's license; AAA card; professional guild membership cards; debit card; insurance cards; membership cards; a few receipts; a few business cards; small photos of my son, my husband and my godson; my lucky chinese fortune cookie fortune; library card. No social security numbers!! No pin numbers! $ 20.00 to $100.00. I prefer to spend my weekly allowance using cash because it can't be tracked. And one can always bargain with cash, never anything else. One of my uncles, who is a banker, told me when I was 18 that I would only ever need 2 credit cards – an Amex and a Visa and to only charge as much as I could afford to pay off entirely at the end of the month. No store cards, nothing else because they only cause trouble. He was right.

    • Raanah

      Hi Rap,nnThanks so much for sharing with us how you keep your wallet! If you want to be eligible to win a brand new wallet from Target, post your tips and a picture of your wallet to our Facebook page: http://facebook.com/learnvest nnBest,nRaanah- LearnVest Social Media Intern

  • wee1

    I too am intrigued by the discussion on credit cards. I have three: one for joint purchases with my husband (he has his own card for the same account), one for personal and work purchases (I often have to buy props for my magazine editing job), and one for my freelance work (I'm a licensed esthetician and do some work in that space). I've often wished I could have only one card and one “emergency” card as you say, but I love that with these three cards I can keep track of expenses for taxes and also for getting reimbursed at work. With only one card in my wallet, it would be really hard to do that… What do you all think, or do you have any suggestions?

  • SoCal Lawyer

    Since I have so many rewards cards and a couple retail credit cards (like J. Crew where I buy my suits for work but I pay off in full when I use them,) I don't like to carry them all the time. Instead, I have a separate fan-out credit card holder that I only take with my when I'm shopping specifically at those stores. That way I'm not tempted to go into those stores and shop on a whim just because I can. Also, along the line of keeping only one credit card in your wallet, I also keep the 800 number written down at home for the credit card I keep in my wallet in case it gets lost or stolen so I can easily call and deal with it.

    • Raanah

      Hi SoCal Lawyer,nnThanks so much for sharing with us how you keep your wallet! If you want to be eligible to win a brand new wallet from Target, post your tips and a picture of your wallet to our Facebook page: http://facebook.com/learnvest nnBest,nRaanah- LearnVest Social Media Intern

    • Anne

      I'm usually caught without my retail credit cards, especially when I walk by The Gap that's having a great sale. I've discovered that the cashier can look up my account number via my phone number. I just need my ID then to prove who I am.

  • ArchiGator2005

    I've always felt that I carry around way to much in my wallet (especially since it's a small zip pouch), but this post helped me to realize I do only carry around the necessities. After years of racking up discount cards and credit cards from various stores which only adding to my debt, I've simplified my wallet down to a few choice items – driver's license, student ID, debit card, credit card, medical/dental benefits cards, AAA card, Starbucks rewards card, Regal Cinemas rewards card, Rolls N Bowls rewards card (local sushi restaurant), and a various thin rewards punch cards for local businesses. I'm very bad about carrying cash (I only have $5 right now), but my favorite wallet item is my Bank of America check card book. My lower income doesn't always keep my checking account at a high balance, so I keep track of every cent, right up to the remainder rolled over with the Keep the Chance program. I recommend to anyone with past overdraft issues to find a small book for recording balances on the go; you never know when a birthday check written months ago is going to spring up and put your account into the negatives.

    • Raanah

      Hi ArchiGator2005,

      Thanks so much for sharing with us how you keep your wallet! If you want to be eligible to win a brand new wallet from Target, post your tips and a picture of your wallet to our Facebook page: http://facebook.com/learnvest

      Best,
      Raanah- LearnVest Social Media Intern

    • Alexa

      I love how organized you are. This is awesome.

  • ajnash

    I like this post but I want to caution/remind everyone on what happens if your wallet is stolen. Some of your cards are replaceable but many are not, especially gift cards (although Visa, Amex, etc giftcards can be registered many store cards cannot). You never plan on this happening but it does. I was mugged and had a wallet packed similarly to the one above and had several store gift cards in there. Now I keep the ones I use frequently like a Starbucks or Jamba giftcard with me and leave the others at home to bring when I plan on going to those stores. I also keep a list of my frequent travel member numbers in my phone as replacing the ones I had taken was time consuming. You never know what is going to happen so I would encourage you all to think about what is in your wallet and be sure that you would be okay with either going through the replacement process or never seeing again some of the items should your wallet ever be lost or stolen.

  • Crimedoc

    I would add to this list a drivers license (or other photo ID if you don’t drive) and a library card if you have one. Also any work or student ID if applicable.nnI also carry a few business cards and some “mommy cards” – basically business cards I got free from Vistaprint that have our home address, phone, and email. They are a great way to exchange info with other parents – so much easier than standing at the ball field or playground scribbling down each others info on scraps of paper. ;-)nnI would recommend NOT carrying a check. If your wallet is stolen and contains a check, you probably will have to close your checking account, which means you also have to change your direct deposit at work and may have to put up with paper checks for a month or more until your job’s payroll dept can make the switch. This happened to me and was a serious hassle.nnI would also recommend NOT carrying gift cards with you unless you are planning to use them at once. Unlike the other contents of your wallet, gift cards are not replaceable so if your wallet is stolen, you are out the value of those gift cards which could add up to a sizable loss.n

  • SueR

    Great post! Here’s what’s in my wallet: Drivers Lic, Debit Card, (2) Personal CC, (1) biz CC, Health Ins. cards, AAA card, Library Card, Aquarium Member card (you get other discounts w it to), Biz / Mommy cards, 3 store discount cards, too many receipts to count and 2 gift cards. My hubby (a CPA) is on me to always have around $100 on me because I’m out with our two girls alot and he wants me to never run out of cash.nnI also have a separate little fan-out billfold from RealSimple/Target that holds all my store discount cards. I don’t keep a check in my wallet because alot of times I carry my checkbook w me.nnI should also put my public radio member card in there because there are discount offers for showing that as well.nnNo PIN, No SSnnHad my wallet stolen once and it was not a fun experience. Luckily I had my passport at home and took that and my checkbook immediately to the bank and then called the cc companies.nnThanks!nnn

  • anonymous

    This learnvest seems to be geared for young people with little experience. I have not learned anything yet. It is pronounced AM-EX not A- Mex as she stated in the video. Hello, what about and ID?

    • maesaysdoit

      the I D is in the printed list…

    • Guest

      Both are correct, but watch the Finance shows and they say, A-mex; not Am-Ex. Like Bank of America is really BOA, not B of A. I believe the norm is to go by the stock symbols, but what do I know, Im just an Econ/Fin major?

  • anonymous

    This learnvest seems to be geared for young people with little experience. I have not learned anything yet. It is pronounced AM-EX not A- Mex as she stated in the video. Hello, what about and ID?

  • J.H.

    Waste of space to include frequent flyer cards. If you have a smart phone create a contact card for yourself and put all important membership numbers in there for handy access. I save library card info, hotel reward program membership numbers, airline membership numbers etc. For store reward cards like CVS, it seems much easier to use your phone number (I usually use my work number since I hate handing out personal info) and I keep a small key ring for those mini-cards they used to give you (seems like fewer stores offer this option though).

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  • Guest

    Im really bare bones. The less clutter; the less stress trying to find things. I use my iphone to capture info and take pictures in case I need to show someone. I like Capital One cc b/c it allows me to upload a picture of myself, which is an additional form of ID in banks you bank with. The little cards, like gift cards, I leave at home b/c in MA they dont expire; it a mandate here. Library card, nope. I dont carry a check. I have my account # in my phone and if I need to take out cash, I’ll show my ID and put my account # on the bank’s check payable to me. I dont carry or use AAA anymore, they dont offer anything I want really. They use vendors that offer them kickbacks. Its best to shop around than to “trust” AAA, lot of seniors dont know or want to hassle shopping around for better deals like auto, life insurance. I can still get roadside assistant through all auto insurance for the same price. Dental and Medical ID and metro cards are a must to carry. My work’s travel agency also provides travel assistance for a small fee like $15, so when people are waiting in line for a cancelled flight, Im already on board the flight you want. I rarely carry receipts, I have a http://www.shoeboxed.com envelopes in my car, at work, and home. Whenever someone gives me a receipt, a bill, any documentation like IRS tax returns, I place it in the envelope and when its full, send it to them for free. they will do the data entry and make expense report and paper recording mgt a breeze.

  • Vpohle

    A friend of mine gave me this tip…she says to keep your store reward cards in your car, like in your glove compartment, instead of your purse or wallet.  In case your purse and/or wallet gets stolen, you have all of your rewards cards and even your gift cards ready and available in your car for you to use when you drive to the store.  Hope this helps some of you out. :)