Wallet 101: What to Keep and What to Take Out

Is your wallet a security risk?

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Wallets can be pesky business. The last thing you want to have is a George Costanza moment—your wallet so stuffed to the brim with receipts that one big gust of wind will send its contents flying through the streets.

A poorly managed wallet is also a huge security risk. You might be carrying contents around that someone could use to easily steal your identity, if your wallet were to end up in the wrong hands. Identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint last year for the 12th year in a row, proving more bothersome to consumers than debt collectors, imposter scams, and shady credit-repair companies, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

To protect yourself, make sure what you're carrying around in your wallet doesn't pose a security risk. U.S. News spoke to Denisa Tova, a certified financial planner based in Denver, and Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments based in Chicago, about what's OK to keep in your wallet and what you should remove. Here's what they said:

Credit cards. Ideally, says Hobson, consumers should own just one credit card. "The whole idea that you need more than one credit card is a fallacy," she says. "Cancelling your second credit card will hurt your credit score in the short term, but in the long term, it's better for you." If you have more than one, Tova recommends locking the rest in a safe. "If your wallet gets stolen, ask to have your credit card account numbers changed," she advises.

Also, cut up expired credit cards. "An identity thief can still use them to steal your identity," Hobson says. "That's something people think is just harmless and it's not."

Sensitive information. Never store your PIN or your passwords in your wallet. "Surprisingly, a lot of people actually keep their debit card's PIN in their wallet right next to their debit card," Hobson says. "That's just setting yourself up for disaster."

Cash. Keep as much as you're comfortable losing, Hobson says. Tova advises keeping no more than $50. "Use cash for small purchases such as a pack of gum, especially if your bank charges debit card fees," she says. She says it's also good to have some cash on hand for emergencies.

Receipts. Receipts for the week are fine, Hobson says, "but there's nothing worse than seeing a wallet stuffed with receipts from the last year." Just be careful you're not keeping receipts with too much personal information on them. Check to make sure you're not carrying around receipts that list your entire credit card number.

Bad forms of identification. Never carry your Social Security card or your passport in your wallet, Hobson says. If your wallet gets stolen with either inside, identity theft is likely to follow suit. "If you're traveling outside of the country, Xerox your passport and put the real one back in the hotel safe," Hobson says.

Old hotel room keys. In the past, the barcode stored your credit card information. "Some hotels have been changing that, but it's something where it's not 100 percent," Hobson says. So either turn the key in when you're checking out, or cut it up.

Credit card offers. Tova says these should be shredded if you don't plan to use them. The same goes for credit card checks, which are checks used to borrow against your line of credit for quick cash. "It would be a bad thing if they ended up in the wrong hands," she says.

Medicare card. Seniors often carry their Medicare card, which lists their Social Security number. Tova's suggestion: Make a photocopy of the card, white out your Social Security number, and only carry the copy.

If your wallet gets stolen, Tova says you should file a police report immediately, then contact all three credit-reporting agencies, your credit card companies, and your bank.