credit cards

4 burning questions about credit scores

stack of blue, gold and silver credit cards and a pen
  • Credit score improvement tips
  • How many credit cards should you have?
  • Does spreading your debt around help?

Whether you're gearing up to apply for a major loan, or just want to keep your credit card rates from escalating, it helps to have a great credit score.

With all the advice offered to consumers about improving their credit score though, it's easy to get confused about the actions that help or harm that powerful three-digit number.

We spoke with a variety of experts to get their take on popular but conflicting credit score-improvement tips.

How many cards should you have? 
The short answer: As many as you need, but no more than you can handle.

The long answer: The average number of credit cards per U.S. cardholder is 9.5, according to David Robertson, the publisher of The Nilson Report, a payments industry newsletter.

The number that experts recommend is somewhat lower.

"One or two is adequate. I'd say more than one for most people," says Curtis Arnold, founder of and author of "How You can Profit from Credit Cards."

Having more than two, however, could provide options for people, should one issuer begin making unfair changes to your account, notes Emily Davidson, a financial expert for

As for your credit scores, "simply having a large number of credit cards is not going to have a negative impact on your FICO score," says Ethan Dornhelm, a senior scientist in the scoring solutions division at Fair Isaac, the creator of the popular FICO scoring model.

In the latest versions of the FICO Classic scoring model, the number of credit cards a consumer holds is not a factor in the calculation, even though it was a factor in some of the previous versions of the model.

In fact, having multiple cards that you use sparingly can boost your credit scores by lowering your overall balance-to-limit ratio, or utilization. Amounts owed makes up 30 percent of your FICO credit score.

Scott Bilker, author and creator of, provides a good, albeit extreme, example of someone with a lot of cards. He says that including the accounts he shares with his wife, he possesses 80 credit cards. His credit score fluctuates between 795 and 819, he says, and his credit limit total is around $572,000.


He doesn't recommend people get that many, but says having numerous cards gives him options. "When I had fewer cards, I was at the mercy of those few banks," Bilker says, adding that if an issuer charged a late fee or reduced his credit line, he was trapped.

While experts interviewed for this article disagreed over the ideal number of cards people should carry, they did agree that consumers should not have more cards than they can manage.

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