Deciding which cards to leave at home

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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.

Ask Tony a question, or see if your question has already been answered in the Cashing In answer archive.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

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.

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: 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.

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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