Learn why your Social Security card, checks and extra credit cards do not make the cut.
Every year millions of Americans see their money and personal information fall into the wrong hands, and the consequences can be devastating. In fact, an identity fraud study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that 16.7 million victims of identity fraud lost a total of $16.8 billion in 2017.
Identifying the things to never keep in your wallet is the first line of defense against theft and fraud. And let’s face it—when was the last time you reviewed the items in your wallet and cleaned out those that are not totally necessary? If you’re carrying around sensitive items in your wallet on the off chance you might need them one day, you could be asking for trouble.
“Anything that’s convenient for you would be convenient for a thief,” says Michael Sullivan, a personal finance consultant at the nonprofit Take Charge America, a national credit counseling and debt management agency based in Phoenix.
“You have to ask yourself what will be the most harmful,” he says. “The most harmful things in your wallet are things that have long-term costs.” According to a study by the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity theft can have long-lasting ramifications for its victims, ranging from bad credit to bankruptcy.
To safeguard your finances while you’re on the go, consider these seven things you should never carry in your wallet:
1. Social Security number
Sullivan says your Social Security card and any identification or documents that include your Social Security number are perfect examples of what not to keep in your wallet. Those nine digits could make it easier for a fraudster to open loans or credit card accounts in your name. A crook could also use your Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a refund.
Brian Meiggs, founder of the personal finance blog My Millennial Guide, says checks and deposit slips are on the list of things to never keep in your wallet. These items may have more information on them than you think, including your name, address, bank name, routing number and account number. These details could be used nefariously if obtained by a fraudster.
“Even if it’s a check that’s already been filled out and used, that can still lead to a fraudulent transaction,” Meiggs says.
3. Numerous credit cards
As you figure out what not to keep in your wallet, consider that less could be more when it comes to the number of credit cards you carry.
“Do you need to carry that department store card with you all the time? No, only when you plan to go to that store,” says Linda Jacob, a certified financial planner and accredited financial counselor with Consumer Credit of Des Moines in Iowa.
If you’re trying to avoid the things you should never carry in your wallet, Jacob recommends having just one credit card and debit card on you at any given time. Bonus: This practice could also be a great way to curb impulse shopping and a tip to living a frugal life. You won’t be tempted to use that store credit card if you don’t have it on you.
4. Multiple gift cards
If you’re considering what not to keep in your wallet, think about the number of gift cards that can pile up—especially after the holidays or your birthday—and that you may tote around out of habit. “If you’re carrying a number of gift cards, you are basically risking giving the value of those cards away if you happen to lose your wallet,” Sullivan says.
To strike this item off the checklist of things to never keep in your wallet, consider using a gift card app. With some of these apps, you can scan and upload gift cards to a digital wallet so that when you shop they can be conveniently accessed from one central spot. Some retail stores also allow you to save gift card information on their apps or websites after logging in, so when you’re ready to make a purchase you can retrieve the gift card for checkout.
5. Password cheat sheets
Scraps of paper with sensitive information such as PINs and passwords are inherently risky, so add them to the list of what not to keep in your wallet.
“Certainly carrying the PIN that goes with the debit card or even the credit card is downright foolhardy,” Sullivan says, “so you should never do that.”
Besides losing your cheat sheet, you then have to worry about thieves hacking into your online accounts if they have your passwords. Meiggs recommends storing encrypted passwords and logins on a password manager website, which acts as a digital gatekeeper.
Knowledge-based authentication questions, also known as out-of-wallet security questions, should also be on your list of things you should never carry in your wallet, Jacob says. Clever identity thieves, who are always on the lookout for personally identifiable information, can scan your social media sites in an attempt to figure out answers to such questions as “What is your favorite sport?” or “When is your child’s birthday?” With that knowledge, thieves could try to hack into your accounts.
6. Excess cash
It may be nice to have cash available at all times—especially if you’re a fan of the envelope budget—but excess cash could be considered a thing to never keep in your wallet since it can make you an attractive target for thieves. When you take out your wallet to make a purchase and sift through a wad of bills, a crook could be watching. Instead, carry a small amount of money for emergencies or small purchases.
“I’ve never figured out why anyone would want to carry a wad of $100 bills,” Sullivan says, explaining that it could be a huge financial hit if you lose your wallet. “I often tell people it doesn’t typically make much sense to carry anything larger than a 50.”
7. Spare keys
Spare house keys are another item on the list of things to never keep in your wallet because they could be an invitation to crooks to steal more, Meiggs says. While you are searching for your missing wallet or filing a police report, thieves could be targeting your home. Plan to keep your spare keys with a trusted friend or relative to avoid putting your property and family at risk.
Lighten your wallet
Of course there are certain items you might want—and probably need—to carry in your wallet daily for convenience. But if you take into account this list of things you should never carry in your wallet, it could help reduce your odds of identity theft and financial damage if you lose your wallet or have it stolen.