When it comes to credit cards, most consumers have more than one. In fact, according to Experian, one of the major credit bureaus, the average American had 3.84 credit cards in 2020. While some people enjoy the flexibility of having multiple cards in their wallets, others may find that having several cards puts them in a precarious financial situation.
Given the risks, you may be wondering what the optimal number of credit cards is. However, there is no straightforward answer as that number depends on your financial goals, spending habits, and money management.
- Americans have an average of 3.84 credit cards. But, how many credit cards you should have depends on your unique financial circumstances.
- Having several credit card accounts can help or hurt your credit scores depending on how responsibly you manage and use your credit.
- There are many types of credit cards, ranging from cash back cards to student cards to business cards.
- If you have multiple cards, some issues you may encounter include hard inquiries that could cause your credit score to drop, annual fees, overspending, etc.
How Many Credit Cards Are Too Many?
There is no definitive answer to how many credit cards you should have or how many are too many. Some people advocate for having as few as possible, while others say that having more than one card can help build a strong credit history. However, some general guidelines can help you make the decision.
Ideally, you should only have as many credit cards as you can manage and use responsibly. If you are highly organized and efficient, you may be able to juggle ten or more credit cards and manage all their various benefits, annual fees, and billing cycles every month without any issues.
But, if you have too many cards, that can become overwhelming, making it difficult to keep track of them all and avoid spending money you do not have. Additionally, having multiple cards can lead to increased debt levels if you start getting your payment deadlines confused or lose track of their perks and benefits.
While credit scoring models will not punish you for having too many credit cards, if you only have one or two cards, it may be difficult to get approved for a loan or line of credit in the future. And with fewer cards, it does not take much to max out your credit limit. For example, when I was in college, my first credit card initially only had a $500 limit, making it very easy to hit my credit limit. We recommend aiming to strike a balance between having enough cards for convenience’s sake but not so many that they become a financial burden.
Finding the Right Number of Credit Cards
Your sweet spot for the number of credit cards you should have depends on several baseline factors. If you are paying annual fees, what is the return you are getting for each card in terms of benefits vs. costs? How many credit cards can you use for purchases regularly? Are you getting different benefits and rewards from each card? Can you reasonably pay off the balances on all your cards every month?
If you tend to spend impulsively or rack up debt quickly, it might be wise to stick with just one or two cards. That will help you stay disciplined and spend within your means. Or, if you want to keep things simple, you can start with a no-annual-fee card with a solid rewards program, such as the Chase Freedom Flex or Citi Double Cash, where you will earn points for every purchase.
Once you get the hang of things, you may consider adding another card or two to your back pocket. With a new credit card, you can increase your total available credit and earn more rewards. Most people have three or four cards that they use based on their most frequent types of purchases. If you become a pro, you may also consider credit card churning to build your credit while maximizing rewards, such as sign-up benefits, travel perks, bonus categories, and more.
As you start building credit, focus on developing healthy financial habits. Things like good organizational skills, money management, and attentiveness to deadlines will be crucial for boosting your overall credit score.
Juggling Several Credit Card Accounts
Credit cards can be a helpful tool when used responsibly, but they can also get you into trouble if you are not careful. Here are five tips for managing multiple credit cards:
- Make a list of all your expenses and income. Then, figure out how much money you can afford to put towards your credit card bills every month. If you cannot comfortably make all of your payments each month, it is probably best to stick with just one or two credit cards.
- Keep track of all your balances and due dates so that you do not miss any payments. Even one missed or late payment can cause your credit score to dip significantly.
- Make sure you know your credit limits. Credit card companies will offer you a certain amount of credit based on your credit score and history. Make sure you do not go over that limit. Otherwise, you could end up paying expensive fees.
- Always pay your balance in full every month. That will help keep your interest down and improve your credit score over time. If you cannot pay off the full balance, at least make more than the minimum payments each month to avoid getting stuck with large interest payments later on down the line.
- Be careful about opening new accounts too often. That could negatively impact your credit score or ability to qualify for future loans by making it seem like you’re struggling financially or that you can’t manage debt responsibly.
- Select cards that best match your spending patterns so you can make the most in rewards without spending more.
Potential Impact on Your Credit Scores
Depending on how well you manage your credit card accounts, having several cards can help or hurt your credit score.
Credit utilization is a major factor in your credit score calculations. It gets calculated by dividing your total credit card balances by your total credit limit. Lenders want to see that you are only using a small amount of your available credit because it shows that you can responsibly use and manage your credit. A high utilization rate could indicate that you are struggling financially and may be a riskier borrower.
Experts recommend keeping your credit utilization rate below 30%, though the lower, the better. Having multiple credit cards could help your credit utilization rate by increasing your overall credit limit and thus decreasing your credit utilization (as long as your spending stays the same).
For example, if you have a credit card with a $3,000 limit and you make $2,000 of purchases on it every month, your credit utilization ratio is ~66.67%. However, if you have two credit cards where one has a $3,000 limit and the other has a $4,000 limit, your utilization ratio becomes ~28.57%. That puts you right under the recommended 30%!
Your payment history makes up a significant chunk of your credit score. A good payment history will help improve your credit score, while a bad payment history can damage your credit score and make it difficult to get approved for new loans or lines of credit.
In other words, paying your balances off on time every month is more heavily weighted than how many credit cards you have. If you have too many accounts and can’t pay off your debts, that will get reported to the credit bureaus and reflect poorly on your credit history.
Length of Credit History
Your credit history is a record of how you have repaid your debts in the past. Lenders use this information to decide whether to give you a loan and what terms to approve you for. The longer your credit history, the better.
The length of your credit history gets calculated by the average age of all the cards you own. It can be affected by many things, such as late payments, defaults, or bankruptcy. If you have a stable credit history, it shows that you are responsible with money and are likely to repay your debts on time. That makes lenders more likely to give you a loan and may result in lower interest rates.
Different Cards Have Different Benefits
Credit cards are not created equal. Some cards offer great travel perks or rewards programs, while others have low interest rates or no annual fees. By getting multiple cards, you can access different reward structures that best suit your lifestyle. Examples of the types of credit cards you can open include:
Cash back cards: Cash back credit cards are a great way to earn money on the purchases you make every day. By using a card that offers cash back, you can earn a percentage of your purchase amount back as cash, which can get redeemed for statement credits, gift cards, or other rewards.
There are many different cash back credit cards available in the market, so be sure to find one that fits your spending habits and rewards preferences. Some cards offer higher percentages of cash back for specific categories of purchases, such as groceries, restaurants, or gas. Others offer a flat rate for all purchases. And some cards have no annual fee, while others charge a fee, but may also include secondary benefits like no foreign transaction fees, travel insurance, or extended warranty protection.
Travel cards: A travel credit card can be a great way to earn rewards when you’re on the go. Many cards offer points or miles for each dollar you spend, which can add up quickly if you use your card for all your purchases while traveling. In addition, many cards offer extra bonuses for spending in specific categories, such as airline tickets or hotel stays.
Another benefit of using a travel credit card is that it can help to protect against lost or stolen luggage. Most cards offer insurance coverage for items like checked bags and delayed flights, which can come in handy if something goes wrong during your trip. And finally, using a travel credit card often comes with added benefits like access to airport lounges and special deals on car rental rates and hotel rooms.
Student cards: Student credit cards can be a great way to obtain and build your credit while you are still in school. They are typically geared towards college and university students who are beginners and may include benefits such as cash back rewards, no annual fees, and 0% introductory APRs. They can also help cover educational expenses, like textbooks or room and board. If used responsibly, student credit cards can be a helpful tool in building a strong financial foundation for your future.
0% APR cards: A 0% APR credit card can be a great way to save money on interest payments. With no interest charged for an introductory period, typically 12-18 months, you can avoid costly finance charges and focus your money on other priorities.
However, it’s crucial to remember that a 0% APR credit card is not a free pass. You should still make your monthly payments on time and in full to avoid your debt snowballing down the line. If you carry a balance from month to month, the 0% APR offer will eventually expire, and you will start paying regular rates again.
Retail cards: If you regularly shop at specific stores, such as Costco or Amazon, consider getting a store-branded credit card that rewards you for your purchases. Many retailers offer their own branded credit cards with special benefits like discounts or early access to sales. For example, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card offers 5% back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases while the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi offers 2% back on Costco purchases.
Business cards: A business credit card is designed for business owners, independent contractors, and gig workers who want to separate their personal and business expenses. While they do not have some of the protections that consumer cards have, they can offer sign-up bonuses, cash back, and travel perks. It can also help build your company’s credit history and make it easier to get approved for loans in the future.
Potential Issues with Having Multiple Credit Cards
Before getting more credit card accounts, there are a few potential challenges to consider.
A hard inquiry, or hard pull, is a credit check a lender does to see if you are eligible for a loan. Whenever you apply for a loan, the lender will pull a hard inquiry on your credit reports, which can ding your credit score temporarily by a few points.
If you have several hard inquiries on your credit report in a short timeframe, it can hurt your credit score and get interpreted as a sign of credit risk. A high number of inquiries can make it look like you are in financial trouble and may not be able to repay your debts.
Multiple Billing Cycles
The more credit cards you have, the more billing cycles you need to track. Too many credit cards can lead to missed or late payments and trigger fees and penalties if you are not careful, which will hurt your credit score and make it harder for you to open credit accounts with favorable terms.
One solution is to automate your payments. That way, you do not need to remember when to pay. Just make sure you always have enough money in your bank account to pay your bills. Alternatively, you can adjust your payment due dates to all be around the same time or align with your paydays to make it easier to remember when to pay.
It’s easy to overspend with too many credit cards. Before you know it, you’ve maxed out your cards and are struggling to make ends meet. Not only is this stressful, but it can also severely damage your credit. If you are not the best at managing your finances, the best way to avoid overspending is to limit the number of credit cards you have. That way, you won’t be tempted to spend more than you can afford.
Annual fees help financial institutions offset the costs of providing credit card services, including things like processing payments, fraud protection, and customer service. By charging an annual fee, banks can ensure that they are making a profit on every cardholder.
If you have several premium cards that charge annual fees, make sure you take full advantage of the benefits. Do the math to calculate whether the credit card rewards outweigh the annual fee. If you are paying fees for cards with benefits that you do not use, that can quickly add up without providing any actual value for you.
Dealing with Compromised Cards
If you have several credit cards with different credit card companies, you may be more vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. Credit card fraud is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for the victim. Credit card fraud can involve the use of a stolen credit card, unauthorized charges to the credit card, or fraudulent claims for refunds or other payments.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to be aware of the warning signs and take precautions against becoming a victim. Be especially careful when using your credit cards online, and ensure that you are only dealing with reputable merchants. If you think you may have been a victim of credit card fraud, contact your credit card company immediately.
Multiple Cards From the Same Credit Card Issuer
When it comes to your credit, having multiple credit cards from the same issuer can be a smart move if done strategically. Here are three reasons why you should consider getting multiple credit cards from the same credit card issuer:
- You can get more rewards. Most issuers offer different rewards programs for their card offerings. By signing up for several of their cards, you can maximize your rewards earnings potential. For example, if you leverage the Chase Trifecta strategy, where you pair three different Chase cards, you can maximize rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program.
- You will build a stronger relationship with credit card companies. When you have multiple accounts with an issuer, they’ll see that you are a valuable customer and may be more likely to work with you if there are any problems with your account or if you need a higher limit or APR reduction someday.
- It can help improve your credit score. Having several active accounts with one creditor shows them that you can handle debt responsibly which is key when it comes to maintaining a good credit score.
The Bottom Line
There is no one perfect number of credit cards to have. Some people may find that they only need one card to cover all their expenses, while others may find that they need a few different cards to get the best deals on different types of purchases. The important thing is not to overdo it and end up with too many cards, which can lead to financial problems.
If you tend to overspend, it might be wise to stick with just one or two credit cards. That will help you stay within your budget and avoid accumulating too much debt. On the other hand, if you are good at managing your money and can pay off your balances each month, having more credit cards could work in your favor. That will allow you to take advantage of different benefits, steadily improve your credit score, and make it easier for you to get approved for future loans or mortgages. Just make sure to use your credit responsibly!