How to transfer everything from your wallet to your phone

My wallet is full of everything but cash.

It’s packed with essentials like my driver’s license, credit cards, traffic pass, library card, and coronavirus vaccine records. Some of the rest are untouched for years. There’s the NYC MetroCard that expired in 2019, business cards for people I’ll never call, gift cards I don’t remember receiving and stacks of receipts for meals I forgot to count.

Over the past two years, a lot of the content in our wallets has become obsolete. There has been pressure to make interactions touch-free during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more options such as digital payments and on-screen IDs. Looking at my huge wallet, I realized that many of them can now be safely transferred to my smartphone (or to the nearest trash can).

Here are some of the basic tools we can use to shrink our wallets and allow our phones to do more of the heavy lifting, without having to be in full control. To start, iPhones have the Wallet app built in and Android devices use the Google Pay app, which can store some of the largest items. The rest can go to password managers, photo albums, and specialized apps. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can still save photos of some less sensitive items in your wallet if your device has a camera.

A word of warning: Not every institution will accept the digital copy or images of things like ID or insurance information. For example, some police will not accept digital proof of car insurance if they stop you, and some doctor’s offices will want to make a copy of your physical insurance card. Take the side of caution for now and use a small wallet or wallet case for your smartphone to carry the essentials.

Digital driver’s licenses are still in their infancy, but you’ll see them take off in the coming years. Apple recently announced that its Wallet app will support digital driver’s licenses starting in Arizona. The company says it is set to track other locations, including Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Ohio and Puerto Rico.

Some states already offer digital licenses through their standalone apps, including Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, and Colorado. Lawmakers in states such as Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, California and Missouri have proposed digital driver’s license projects. Other states, including Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Utah and Virginia, have conducted pilot programs for digital IDs — or are planning soon — but have not fully adopted them.

Apple Wallet also supports a number of Student IDs, and individual schools offer their own on-screen versions. You can also store your driver’s license (or other sensitive identifier like your Social Security card) in a secure password manager app like 1Password or Dashlane. Do not take pictures of your driver’s license or other official identifiers and store them in your smartphone’s Photos app or send them via email. These cards contain sensitive information that can be used for identity theft.

All you need to know about digital driver’s licenses

Why do you keep your receipts? If it’s just a habit, you can safely say no thank you at the register or put it in the nearest trash can instead of your wallet. But if you use it, say for expense or tax reports, or to check your credit card bill, the digital version should work as well.

You can take pictures using your phone’s camera app, but it will clutter your gallery. There are low-tech options, like using the iOS Notes app and taking photos there, so you don’t get mixed up with your other photos. But the best option for any large amount of receipts is a dedicated app like Expensify. If you’re saving receipts specifically for your business expenses, check to see if the software your employer uses for compensation has a mobile app and use it to save a move.

These come in various forms, including key chains, hanging straps to wear, and wallet-sized cards. If you are required to use a pass that also displays an ID with an image, ask the building or company 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 version of many of these passages smaller than the original, but this only works if you don’t need a picture. Building permits typically use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to open doors wirelessly. A copy of your card can be made the size of a keychain, a regular key shape, or even a sticker that you can slap on the back of your phone case.

Many local locksmiths can make these copies, or you can check out KeyMe. The company takes the keys in the mail, or has vending machines in some locations that can make copies on the spot.

This is one of the toughest to let go, and for good reason. If your phone dies, gets lost or breaks, or if you are somewhere with an old payment system, you are stranded without any cash. There is a middle ground. Keep one card in your wallet with some cash, then transfer the rest to your mobile wallet.

Android, iOS, and Samsung have built-in mobile payment systems that use NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to wirelessly make payments to your card in stores or restaurants. This technique is common at most larger companies, but be aware that some smaller sites may need a physical card. As with IDs, you should not take pictures of your credit cards and store them on your phone; Enter the information directly into the secure wallet or banking apps only.

You can use payment apps like Venmo, PayPal, and the Cash App for situations that usually require cash, such as spitting out a bill. However, it’s still smart to keep a little money on you at all times for tips, donations, emergencies and dive bars.

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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 a local public transit payment system in your device wallet. The NFC chip built into the smartphones will trigger payment upon entry. 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 every library system has its own way. Many library systems have applications where you can store card information for your entire family, or you can save it to password managers. Most library cards have a barcode that you’ll want to use for any personal checkouts, so save a picture of it as well.

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Other people’s business cards

There are two options for business cards, depending on how much work you want to do. If you have something to look up later that you don’t need in any contacts app, take a picture of the business card and toss it on the paper.

If you need to keep and organize the cards you get, 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 iPhones and Android devices now have the ability to erase text from photos, so you can copy and paste them directly from a photo into the Contacts app, but it’s more difficult.

Know that any information you add to your phone’s Contacts app can be accessed by many apps that have permission.

Lots of apps use your personal contacts. Few will tell you what to do with them.

Save a step for strangers, too. Take a picture of your business card and keep it handy, for example in a photo library called My Business Card. Next time you meet someone you want to call, offer to email them your photo or contact information or text them right away. You can also offer to let them take a real photo and hand it over again, and keep a smaller amount on you.

Corona virus vaccination cards

You’ll want to keep vaccination records with you at all times, especially if you’re on a trip or live somewhere with vaccination mandates. Many states have added digital options to prove your vaccination status.

Start by checking your state’s Department of Health website to see if it offers an option to transfer your records directly to your phone’s wallet or app. You can save the card image, or use a third-party app like Clear, CommonPass, or Excelsior Pass to keep more official documents on the phone.

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Health insurance and other miscellaneous cards

There is an entire class of cards in your wallet that only has important numbers printed on them. Whether it’s an AAA card or a health insurance card, you can usually store it in a password manager app securely with a picture attached to the card. If the card has a magnetic stripe on the back or an RFID chip inside, you may have to keep it with you if you use these features. Look to see if there is an official option to store it digitally, such as your insurance provider’s app. If there is a barcode, also make sure to save a picture of it or you may end up typing a number that is too long.

Many cafes and restaurants are adding digital versions of classic loyalty cards. They will try to get you to use their app, which can help them collect additional information about you, but also includes useful features like the ability to place mobile orders. Third-party apps like Stocard and Key Ring can be used to manage multiple loyalty cards simultaneously.

If you can, ask people to give you digital gift cards in advance. Transferring the balance from a physical card online can be difficult, and some stores do not allow this. You can risk keeping the image of the card for use, but also be sure to show any PIN (often under a small scratch box) and keep the original image in case the store isn’t using the digital copy. You can also try cashing out cards that you won’t use online, but sites that buy these credits take a cut. Your best bet may be to shop ASAP.

Most people already show the photos on their phones, but if you want that perfect set of grandkids or dogs ready to show off, create a private album just for snapshots worth buying. This way when you show people your family, you don’t end up scrolling through irrelevant or embarrassing photos. Or choose one group shot and make it your phone wallpaper.

Chris Velazko contributed to this report.