In the last two years, much of the content in our wallets has become obsolete. There has been a push to make interactions contactless during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to more options like digital payments and on-screen IDs. Looking at my huge wallet, I realize that much of it can now be safely moved to my smartphone (or the nearest trash can).
These are some of the basic tools we can use to shrink our wallets and let our phones do more of the heavy lifting, without losing full control. For starters, iPhones have the Wallet app built in, and Android devices use the Google Pay app, which can store some of the larger items. The rest can go in password managers, photo albums and specialized apps. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still save photos of some of the less sensitive items in your wallet if your device has a camera.
A word of warning: Not all institutions will accept the digital version or photos of things like your ID or insurance information. For example, some police officers won’t accept digital proof of car insurance if you’re pulled over, and some doctors’ offices will want to make a copy of your actual insurance card. Play it safe for now and use a small wallet or wallet case for your smartphone to carry the essentials.
Digital driver’s licenses are still in very early stages, but you’ll see them take off in the next few years. Apple recently announced that its Wallet app will support digital driver’s licenses starting in Arizona. The company says other locations are slated to follow, including Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio and Puerto Rico.
Some states already offer digital licenses through their own separate applications, including Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana and Colorado. Lawmakers in states like Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, California and Missouri have proposed digital driver’s license bills. And other states, including Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Utah and Virginia, have piloted digital ID programs, or plan to do so soon, but have not fully adopted them.
Apple Wallet also supports various student IDs, with individual schools offering their own on-screen versions. You can also store your driver’s license (or other sensitive IDs like a Social Security card) in a secure password management app like 1Password or Dashlane. Do not take photos of your driver’s license or other official IDs and save them to your smartphone’s photo app or send them via email. These cards contain sensitive information that could be used for identity theft.
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Why do you keep your receipts? If it’s just a habit, you can safely say no thanks at the register or put them in the nearest trash can instead of your wallet. But if you use them, say, for expense reports, taxes, or to check your credit card bill, a digital version should work just as well.
You can take photos with your phone’s camera app, but they will clutter up your gallery. There are low-tech options, like using the iOS Notes app and taking photos there, so they don’t get mixed up with your other images. But the best option for a large number of receipts is a dedicated app like Expensify. If you’re saving receipts specifically for your work expenses, check to see if the program your employer uses for reimbursement has a mobile app and use it to save a step.
These come in different forms, including key chains, lanyards that you wear, and wallet-sized cards. If you must use a pass that also displays a photo ID, ask your building or business if they offer a smartphone version of their access system. Many large security companies, such as HID Global, have this option, but it must be activated by the company itself.
However, you can make an unofficial copy of many of these passes that is smaller than the original, but this only works if you don’t need a photo. Building passes often use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to wirelessly unlock doors. A copy of your card can be made the size of a keychain, the shape of a regular key, or even a sticker that you can stick to the back of your phone case.
Many local locksmiths can make these copies, or you can check out KeyMe. The company accepts keys by mail or has vending machines in some places that can make copies on the spot.
This is one of the hardest to let go of, and for good reason. If your phone dies, is lost or broken, or you find yourself somewhere with an old payment system, you could be stranded with no money. There is a compromise. Keep one card in your wallet along with some cash, then move the rest to your phone’s mobile wallet.
Android, iOS, and Samsung have built-in mobile payment systems that use NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to wirelessly make payments with your card in stores or restaurants. The technology is common in most large businesses, but keep in mind that some smaller places may require a physical card. As with IDs, you shouldn’t take photos of your credit cards and store them on your phone; just enter the information directly into the secure wallet or banking apps.
You can use payment apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Cash App for situations that would normally require cash, like spitting out a bill. However, it’s still smart to carry a little cash with you at all times for tips, donations, emergencies, and clubbing.
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Cities across the country have added the ability to pay for a subway or bus ride by tapping your smartphone or smartwatch at the entrance. If you live in New York City, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Portland, Oregon, you should be able to set up your local transit payment system in your device wallet. The built-in NFC chip of smartphones will trigger the payment when you enter. Other cities are still working on adding smartphone payment options.
On an iPhone, you can add transit cards through the Wallet app. On an Android device, add it through the Google Pay app.
It’s the golden age of digital library options, but each library system has its own approach. Many library systems have apps where you can store card information for your entire family, or you can store them in password managers. Most library cards have a barcode that you’ll want to use for any in-person payments, so keep a photo of it, too.
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Other people’s business cards
There are two options for business cards, depending on how much work you want to get done. If you’re just saving something to look up later and don’t need it in any contacts app, take a photo of the business card and throw it away. paper.
If you need to store and organize the cards you receive, use an app that can turn a photo into an address card entry. Try CamCard (free with subscription options) or ABBYY Business Card Reader (free trial, subscription, or other paid options). Both iPhone and Android devices now have the ability to scan text from images, so you can copy and paste directly from a photo into a contacts app, but it’s a bit more involved.
Keep in mind that any information you add to your phone’s Contacts app can be accessed by various apps that have permission.
Many apps use your personal contacts. Few will tell you what they do with them.
Save strangers a step too. Take a photo of your own business card and keep it handy, say in a photo library called “My Business Card.” The next time you meet someone you want to connect with, offer to email or text them the picture or your contact info on the spot. You can also offer them to take a photo of a real one and return it to you, and you keep a smaller amount.
coronavirus vaccination cards
You’ll want to have your immunization records with you at all times, especially if you’re traveling or live somewhere with immunization mandates. Many states have added digital options to prove your vaccination status.
Start by checking your state health department’s website to see if it offers an option to transfer your records directly to your phone’s wallet or to their own app. You can save a photo of the card or use a third-party app like Clear, CommonPass, or Excelsior Pass to keep more official documentation on your phone.
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Health insurance and other miscellaneous cards
There is a whole category of cards in your wallet that only have important numbers printed on them. Whether it’s your AAA card or your health insurance card, you can usually store it in your password manager app securely with an attached image of the card. If a card has a magnetic stripe on the back or an RFID chip inside, you may need to keep it if you use those features. Look to see if there’s an official option to store it digitally, like your insurance provider’s app. If there is a barcode, make sure you also save an image of it or you might end up typing a very long number.
Many cafes and restaurants are adding digital versions of classic punch loyalty cards. They will try to pressure you into using their own app, which can help them collect additional information about you, but also includes useful features such as the ability to place mobile orders. Third-party apps like Stocard and Key Ring can be used to manage multiple loyalty cards at once.
If you can, ask people to give you digital gift cards in advance. Transferring a physical card balance online can be tricky, and some stores don’t allow it. You can take the risk of saving a photo of the card to use, but be sure to also show any PINs (often under a small scratch-off square) and keep the original in case a store doesn’t accept the digital version. You can also try charging cards you won’t use online, but the sites that buy these credits take a cut. Your best bet might be to go shopping as soon as possible.
Most people already display photos on their phones, but if you want to have that perfect selection of grandkids or dogs ready to show off, make a special album just for wallet-worthy photos. That way, when you show people your family, you won’t end up scrolling through embarrassing or unrelated images. Or just choose a group photo and make it your phone wallpaper.
Chris Velazco contributed to this report.