Which credit cards should I carry in my wallet?

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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Which cards should I carry in my wallet?

Carry the cards which earn you rewards with every purchase and the ones that get you extra perks, like access to lounges. You can organize your cards by:
  1. Always carry.
  2. Leave at home.
  3. Cards for travel.
Expert Q&A

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Dear Cashing In,
I’ve added a few reward cards lately and now have five. But it is too many to carry around in my wallet because of all the other stuff in there. Which ones should I carry in my wallet? – Todd

Dear Todd,
Card issuers and people in the credit card industry often talk about “top of wallet” – the idea of producing a card that people use as their go-to method of payment. They strive to devise cards that are “top of wallet.”

How to organize your cards

What you’re asking is the opposite: How do you determine which of your cards are bottom of wallet – or even below bottom of wallet, such that they are not even in your wallet.

Obviously, you need to carry around the cards you use the most at retail stores. But increasingly, you might find that you don’t need to carry around all of your cards all the time. It’s possible now to still reap the benefits of reward cards without actually carrying them in your wallet.

Generally, here’s how you might think about organizing your reward cards:

ALWAYS CARRY

  • Cards used for purchases at brick-and-mortar stores. Maybe you use all of your cards regularly out at stores and feel the need to have all of them with you all the time. But you might also consider carrying around just the essential cards, or rotating them through your wallet regularly.

    If you have cards that give you bonus reward points at grocery stores or gas stations or restaurants, you’ll probably want to carry those around at all times to make sure you reap the benefits of those cards.

    Often, people pair the use of those cards with a cash back card that rewards you at 1.5 percent or 2 percent on all purchases. You use the category bonus card to earn bonus points, then use the cash back card with a high, flat rate everywhere else.
Tip

Tip: If the stores where you usually shop accept mobile payments, consider adding your favorite credit cards to the mobile wallet on your phone instead of carrying them in your physical wallet.

LEAVE AT HOME

  • No annual fee cards. If you have a card with no annual fee that you’re not using too much, there’s no harm in leaving it at home. Assuming you have no balance on it, it’s not doing any harm by gathering dust.

    You don’t have to cancel these cards – you can and probably should leave them open. Every open account helps your credit utilization and average length of account, both of which are factored into your credit score. And you still have it for emergencies.

  • Airline perks cards. It used to be that if you had an airline card, you needed to carry it with you to ensure that you received your free checked bag or priority boarding at the airport.

    Nowadays, though, airlines have mostly incorporated the fact that you have an airline card into their computer systems, so you don’t need to actually flash the card to receive those perks.

    You can safely leave these cards at home if you don’t use them. (The exception is premium cards that get you into airline clubs. See below.)

  • Cards for online purchases. E-commerce is continuing to grow, with about 10 percent of all retail sales taking place online. Some cards even have category bonuses for online shopping, such as the Barclaycard Uber Visa, or give bonuses at certain online merchants, such as the Chase Amazon Prime Rewards Visa.

    If you have a card that you don’t use much out in the real world but one that you do use for shopping online, you don’t need to keep that in your wallet.
Tip

Tip: For most airline cards, you won't need to carry them on you to get the extra perks, with the exception of premium cards for lounge access.

CARDS FOR TRAVEL

Before trips, you might consider adjusting the cards in your wallet. For a trip, here are the cards you'll want to take.

  • Cards with no foreign transaction fee, if traveling internationally. Many cards have no foreign transaction fee. Make sure you know which waive these charges, and put them in your wallet before departing.

  • Hotel cards. If you have a hotel card and are staying at that brand of hotel, you’ll want to ensure you take that card, because most offer big bonuses for spending at that hotel chain.

  • Premium airline cards. If you have a card that gets you into an airport lounge, you will typically need to show that card when arriving at the lounge.

  • Other travel-oriented cards. If you have cards that allow you to wipe away travel purchases with points, have annual travel credits, or give category bonuses for travel, be sure to take those on your trip.

People will make different decisions on which cards to carry around. But don’t feel as though you always have to carry all of them in your wallet.

See related: How to set up the right “default” card on your mobile wallet, 10 cash back credit card mistakes you need to avoid


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Updated: 11-16-2018