Billfold vs Wallet: What Are The Differences?

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We all think we know what a wallet is, but is a wallet the same thing as a billfold? Close, but not quite. Billfold vs wallet – we’ve got you covered!

Both billfolds and wallets are holders for paper money, credit cards, and other small personal items. But what is the difference between the two?

Billfold vs Wallet

We did a quick check on Merriam-Webster. According to their definition, the terms wallet and billfold are considered synonyms.

Hmm.

The term wallet goes back to the 14th century when it was spelled “walet,” whereas the term billfold came about in the 1890s.

In its earliest days, the wallet was more or less a small pouch rather than what we think of today when we think of wallets. This is because, back in the 14th century, people carried metal coins rather than paper money, along with pens, paper, notes, and even medicines.

Throughout the years, the items found in a wallet have changed. These days, most wallets are used for paper money, coins, business cards, identification cards, credit cards, and photos.

Billfold vs. Wallet

In the late 19th century, the word billfold became popular. The name came from these wallets holding money by folding it in half (bifold wallets) or in threes (trifold wallets). Throughout the years, the term billfold has fallen out of use, and the term wallet is the most accepted and recognized.

So, technically the words wallet and billfold aren’t actually synonyms.

To give a quick example – a long wallet (or breast-pocket wallet) can’t be considered a billfold because the bills are stored lengthwise, and do not get folded as in a traditional bifold or trifold.

Yes, they are both used for the same purpose, but they aren’t exactly the same so they can’t really be considered synonymous. Sorry Merriam-Webster – we’re overruling you there.

Drum roll, please. We have our answer:

Are Wallets and Billfolds the Same?

No. Billfold is an archaic term describing a wallet that literally folds bills (e.g. a traditional bifold or trifold). Wallet is a broader term, so all billfolds are wallets, but not all wallets are billfolds.

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Types of Wallets (and Which Can Be Considered Billfolds)

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of wallets used today.

Money Clips

The money clip has ancient origins and can be traced back to Mesopotamia. During this time, they were used by traders so they could keep their important papers in one place. You will also find money clips in Japanese history.

Today’s money clip originated in the US early in the 20th century. This was when paper money came into vogue, and the money clip was an excellent way to keep paper money organized. Eventually, it became a status symbol for men because it showed they had plenty of disposable income.

Verdict: Clearly not a billfold.

Bifold Wallets

The bifold wallet is probably one of the most recognizable types of wallet. It has two sections and folds down the middle. Paper money is folded once in this type of wallet, and there are often sections for credit cards, ID, and business cards. Some bifold wallets even have coin pockets.

Verdict: This is the original, the OG billfold!

wallet pockets

Long Wallets

So, what is a long wallet? In most cases, it is always bifold. So, basically, it is a particular type of bifold wallet. It is vertical, so the paper money isn’t folded. It also has sections for various cards and often a coin pocket.

Verdict: As we said earlier, clearly not a billfold.

Trifold Wallets

A trifold wallet has three sections that are all equal in size. Two of the folds bring the outer sections to the center. The paper money is folded at two points, and each of the three sections will usually have slots for cards. This type of wallet has been popular since the 1970s, when people began carrying more credit cards.

Verdict: Clearly a billfold. We don’t recommend them though, as they tend to be bulky.

Checkbook Wallets

While most people use electronic banking these days, some still prefer to write checks for some things. In fact, there are times when a check is the ideal option and often the only option. A checkbook wallet is a good idea if you write the occasional check. That way, you can be sure you always have a few checks with you when you need them.

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This type of wallet is similar in appearance to a long, bifold wallet, but it has extra space for a checkbook. In addition, some of these wallets also have pen holders. After all, you will need a pen if you write a check.

Verdict: Not a billfold (it’s a type of long wallet).

Travel Wallets

Most of the time, you will not need a travel wallet, which is why it is often referred to as a secondary wallet. However, this is an excellent wallet for anyone who travels, especially those who travel internationally and must carry their passports.

Most travel wallets are designed to be able to hold a passport, whereas standard wallets do not have enough space for this. Of course, you can still opt to use a passport case, but you would still end up traveling with two wallets, which is entirely unnecessary.

Verdict: Usually not a billfold (typically a type of long wallet, long enough to hold a passport).

Minimalist Wallets

There are a variety of types of minimalist wallets. One of the first to come to mind is the card case, among the first of this type of wallet. Card wallets, originating in the 1980s, have grown in popularity.

A minimalist wallet is the size of a credit or debit card, and there are card pockets on both sides in most cases. There is no section for coins, but bills are folded in half twice, so they can be neatly placed into the middle pocket.

Verdict: While not a “traditional” billfold, these modern designs do insist on bills being folded to fit, so – 21st Century Billfold!

Box Wallets

Billfold vs. Wallet

A box wallet is a card case enclosed in a sturdy frame. This frame is generally made from carbon fiber or metal. The first aluminum wallet was designed by Ridge, and it wasn’t long before they made similar wallets from various materials, including titanium and carbon fiber. These wallets are available in multiple colors.

Verdict: This is a type of minimalist wallet, typically requiring bills to be folded, so – 21st Century Billfold!

Cellphone Wallets

This is a take on the minimalist wallet with a bit of a twist. It has a special pocket for your cell phone. There are two categories that cellphone wallets can fall into, those that attach to the phone and cellphone cases with wallets as an integral part.

Attachable Phone Wallets

Stick-On Cellphone Wallets

These wallets became popular and were often used as swag at conferences, trade shows, etc. Initially, an adhesive material was used to stick to the phone or the case. Newer versions have a MagSafe point that sticks the phone to the wallet via a magnet.

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Detachable Cellphone Wallets

A detachable cellphone wallet is made in two parts. First, an anchor point holds the phone or the case. There is also a detachable wallet that can fit onto the anchor point. A great example is the PopSocket, which you can switch out regularly to change the look of the phone and case.

Wallet/Cellphone Cases

This type of cellphone is much like a bifold but thicker. This case is made in two parts: the main cover area is for the phone, and then there is a cover that folds over the screen to protect it.

You can also carry a few cards and cash in this wallet type. Some versions are made with sections for coins. The only real drawback to this type of wallet is that if you lose it, not only have you lost your money and cards, but you have also lost your phone.

Verdict: All cellphone wallets that we’ve seen require bills to be folded to fit, so – 21st Century Billfold!

Combo Wallets

Next, we have the combo wallet. This is becoming increasingly popular because it combines two types of wallets: the money clip and the bifold wallet. This is an excellent choice for those who want more options or just want to have something a bit different. It is a slim profile wallet that can hold your phone, credit cards, ID, and even a few bills, so you always have cash on hand.

Verdict: The bifold is the classic billfold!

Chain Wallets

Finally, we come to the chain wallet. This type of wallet is slightly edgier, but they are not all about looking edgy. This is one of the best wallets for anyone who rides a motorcycle. Even if your wallet slips out of your pocket, there is little chance you will lose it. A chain wallet is any type of wallet attached to a chain.

Verdict: That depends. Some chain wallets are long wallets, so are not.

Conclusion

The term “billfold” may be obsolete, but many of the popular wallet styles today are still oriented around carrying folded bills, so technically many of them could be considered billfolds.

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