We love the motto "be prepared."
But when it comes to the average American's wallet, there's such a thing as over-prepared. From the looks of our bulging Costanza-esque billfolds, we must be heading out each day to open a new line of credit, fill out a W-2, shop at several department stores, use a few gift cards, return an item or two, and grab a fro-yo at our favorite punch card spot on the way home.
One thousand wallets and purses are stolen every two minutes in America. While it's smart to be concerned with online security, 76% of identity thefts result from the theft of something physical, like a wallet. Additionally, it costs an average of $8,000 to recover from identity theft.
Most police who receive reports of stolen wallets lament the same thing: people carry way too much stuff in their wallets, handing their entire lives over to identity thieves.
So before you leave the house, read this list of what NOT to keep in your wallet, so you can pare down to just the essentials -- and protect your finances and identity. While some may seem like common sense, you'd be surprised how many people still carry some of this stuff in their wallets...
Social Security Card
This is the number one thing to NOT keep in your wallet. If a thief gets a hold of your Social Security card, he can open credit cards, take out loans or even buy a car -- it makes you very vulnerable to identity theft. There is no need to carry this around as an extra form of ID, and even the U.S. government's website recommends leaving your card at home in a safe place. Your Social Security number is only nine digits -- just memorize it.
Checkbooks seem innocent enough, but they have your bank account number, address and possibly imprints of your signature. In the wrong hands, blank checks are easily cashed. If you know you need to write a check that day, rip one out and take it with you, or if you bring your checkbook, take it back out of your bag or wallet at the end of the day. It's best not to get in the habit of carrying a checkbook around.
You're at serious risk of identity theft if your passport falls into the wrong hands. While it may seem obvious to some, you'd be surprised at how many stories we hear of people carrying this around as a form of ID in the U.S. If you're traveling internationally, leave your passport in the hotel safe (carry around a photocopy if you want). Losing your passport in a foreign country is a terrible hassle that involves trips to the embassy, wasted time and sometimes changed travel plans.
Too Much Cash
Try to carry only as much cash as you are willing to lose. You should always have some cash on you in case of an emergency, but you don't want to feel a huge hit if your wallet is lost or stolen. If you're on a "cash diet," carry only what you need for the day. According to a recent poll, over 50% of LearnVest readers carry less than $50 of cash with them.
Too Many Credit Cards
Don't carry every credit card you have: If your wallet is lost or stolen, the thief will have a field day with more cards to rack up (leaving you more headache to deal with). Plus, you won't have anything to use in the meantime as you take care of getting new cards. Carry only one or two of your main cards, and possibly a backup, and leave the rest in a safe place at home.
TIP: Keep photocopies of the fronts and backs of all your cards at home. If your cards are lost or stolen, you won't have to hunt around for numbers. Also, never close your accounts -- ask for your account number to be changed. Closing an account can damage your credit, and you may lose previous reward points, interest rates or credit limits.
A Non-password-protected Phone
If your cell phone allows you to password protect it -- do so! Smart phones may provide instant access to bank accounts, PayPal accounts, medical records and more. A phone with email capability alone could mean access to account numbers or credit card numbers from e-commerce receipts. This way, a thief can wipe your phone's memory, but he'll never have access to your valuable information.
Don't carry these around in the off-chance you'll pass by the store and decide to use it. If your wallet falls into the hands of a thief, gift cards are the first thing he will use, because they're just like cash. Leave them at home, unless you know you're going shopping at that store.
Many of us are guilty of this -- we use our wallet or bag as a receipt-holder, thinking nothing of it. But receipts can sometimes have credit card information or your signature. Not to mention that you may need some important receipts for returns or warranties, and if your business expense receipts go missing, that can be a big reimbursement hassle. Get in the habit of taking receipts out of your wallet at the end of every day.
Jewelry or USB Devices
If you're changing jewelry before a night out on the town, you might toss it in the zippered section of your wallet or your bag, and the same thing goes for a USB device after a work meeting. Then you may forget about it for a while -- until your bag is stolen, and you have to deal with the heartache of losing your grandma's earrings along with your cash. It's just common sense, but make sure to clean out your valuables from your wallet or purse every night.
But Do Put This...A Baby Photo
Now that you've made room in your wallet, there's one thing to put in: a baby photo. According to a study done in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2009, wallets with photos are more likely to be returned than wallets without photos, and a photo of a baby takes the lead -- 88% of wallets with baby photos were returned, compared to 53% for puppy photos, 48% for happy family photos and 28% for photos of an elderly couple.
A version of this post originally appeared on LearnVest.
Follow M. Lin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/_marianalin