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There is no perfect number of credit cards to have. Once you begin exploring credit card offers, you’ll quickly notice how wide and varied the best credit cards are. From travel rewards to cash back and 0 percent intro APR offers on purchases, it may feel difficult to narrow your choices.
In some cases, carrying several credit cards makes a lot of sense. In others, you’re probably better off with a single credit card that meets all your needs.
Here’s what you need to know about having multiple credit cards, plus tips for how you can most effectively pair them to maximize your rewards.
Is there such a thing as too many credit cards or too few?
There is no universal number of credit cards that is “too many.” Your credit score won’t tank once you hit a certain number. In reality, the point of “too many” credit cards is when you’re losing money on annual fees or having trouble keeping up with bills — and that varies from person to person.
If you are “Type A” and incredibly organized, you may be able to have 10 or more credit cards and keep track of their benefits, fees and payments without any problem. If you travel all the time and maximize travel credit cards like it’s your part-time job, then having an array of credit cards with different perks could even be incredibly lucrative.
Then again, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with different credit card earning rates, rewards programs, fees and payment due dates. You may realize you’ve reached your limit when you begin getting your cards and payments confused, or can no longer keep track of the perks each one offers.
On the flip side, having a thin credit file can make it difficult to render what kind of borrower you are. Lenders typically view this as a risk, and it can be harder to obtain a high credit score when you have four accounts or fewer. Plus, your credit behavior can have a bigger effect on your score when you only have a few accounts. Think of it this way: It is much easier to reach your overall credit limit with a few cards, and this can have a negative impact on your credit score.
How many credit cards should you have?
Your magic number of credit cards is a conclusion you’ll have to reach on your own. For reference, the average American has between three and four credit cards. Where you fall around that baseline should depend on the following factors:
- How comfortable you are paying credit card annual fees (and if you’re getting significant value in return)
- The number of cards you can reasonably use for purchases on a regular basis
- The perks you can get with each one (without paying for redundant benefits)
- The type of rewards you want to earn and whether you want to earn more than one type of rewards currency
The minimalist: 1-2 credit cards
For those who like to keep it simple, one or two well-chosen credit cards should be a good fit. If you only have one credit card or are choosing a starter card, we recommend choosing a no-annual-fee flat-rate cash back card. You’ll earn a little cash back on every purchase and won’t need to keep track of bonus categories or annual fees.
If you feel like you’ve got the hang of that after some time, you might consider adding another card to your wallet. With a new card, you can increase your available credit, earn more rewards and maybe even score a nice sign-up bonus. If you already have a good flat-rate card, we suggest a card with bonus categories that match your spending habits — whether that’s travel, groceries, dining out or something else.
The intermediate: 3-5 credit cards
Most people fall within this category. At this point, you can probably be rewarded for all of your major spending categories. Ideally, you’d have a good flat-rate card (rewarding at least 2 percent cash back on all purchases) and two to four other types of cards that reward your most frequent types of purchases.
The rewards aficionado: 6+ credit cards
At this point, earning credit card rewards often becomes something like a hobby — a lucrative one, for many. Some people’s credit card portfolios are well into the double digits. Take Luke Thomas, for example, who opened 24 credit cards in eight years to build excellent credit and fund his world travels.
But you don’t need two dozen credit cards before you get organized. As soon as card details become difficult to keep straight in your head, it’s smart to create a spreadsheet of annual fees and payment due dates (if autopay isn’t an option). You might also note bonus categories, sign-up bonus deadlines and any other perks. After all, many premium credit cards are only worth their annual fees if you actually use the benefits.
Does the number of credit cards you have impact your credit score?
As with many credit-related questions, it depends. While the number of credit cards one has isn’t a credit score factor, getting a new card is likely to impact your score.
How it can hurt
- A hard inquiry. When you apply for a credit card and a hard inquiry is placed on your credit report, you may see a temporary drop in your credit score. However, that should last for only a few months.
- Too many applications in a short time. “New credit” makes up 10 percent of your FICO credit score, which means lots of young accounts and recent inquiries will decrease your score. For the best approval odds and credit score, you should wait three to six months between credit card applications.
How it can help
- Credit utilization. The amount of debt you owe in relation to your credit limits is known as credit utilization, and it’s the second most important factor in your credit score (behind payment history). Lower is better for this number, and opening a new credit card can help. Here’s why: If the combined credit limit of all your credit cards is $10,000 and you typically spend $1,000 on credit cards each month, your credit utilization is 10 percent (1,000 / 10,000 = 10). If you get a new card with a $2,000 limit and continue spending the same amount, your ratio goes down to about 8 percent (1,000 / 12,000 = 8.3).
When multiple credit cards make sense
There are many situations in which you can benefit from having more than one credit card, and that’s especially true for rewards enthusiasts who are willing to get multiple credit cards from the same card issuer.
Instances where it can make sense to have multiple credit cards include the following:
|Reasons to have multiple credit cards||Advantages|
|You want to earn different types of rewards.||Having a diverse combination of credit cards lets you rack up different types of rewards (cash back, travel rewards, etc.) that you can’t always earn with just one card.|
|You love credit card sign-up bonuses.||Multiple cards yield multiple welcome offers, which can be worth hundreds of dollars each.|
|You want to lower your credit utilization.||Having multiple credit cards increases your overall credit line, which can lower your credit utilization rate if you keep your spending consistent.|
|You want a diverse set of perks.||Having several credit cards can give you varied perks like automatic elite status at hotels, airport lounge access, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits, annual travel credits and more.|
|You want to pair multiple cards within a single rewards program.||Getting multiple cards that earn the same type of rewards can help you leverage each card’s unique earning rate and bonus categories.|
|You’re a business owner.||Small business owners should have a separate business credit card for all their business-related spending and bills.|
All these reasons aside, it’s important to note that multiple credit cards only make sense for people whose finances are organized already, as well as those who pay their credit card balances in full each month.
Also, keep in mind that juggling a few credit cards can also mean juggling multiple annual fees. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should make sure you are getting enough value in terms of credit card perks and rewards.
When having one credit card makes sense
If you find yourself stressed out at the mere thought of carrying more than one credit card, you’re certainly not alone. After all, many consumers prefer the simplicity of having one credit card and one bill to deal with — especially when one card meets a variety of needs and additional cards would just make life more complicated than it needs to be.
Here are some situations where you might want just one credit card:
|Reasons to have one credit card||Advantages|
|You want 0 percent intro APR on purchases for a limited time.||If you are more interested in a 0 percent APR offer rather than earning rewards, picking one card with the longest introductory offer you can find makes a lot of sense.|
|You plan to use a balance transfer credit card to consolidate debt.||Paying off debt with a balance transfer is a lot easier when you don’t have multiple credit cards tempting you to spend.|
|You only want to earn cash back.||If you want to focus on cash back only, picking a card with the highest earning rate can yield the most in rewards.|
|You are averse to annual fees.||Having one credit card with no annual fee lets you avoid paying for the privilege of having a more perk-laden credit card.|
|You want to keep your finances simple.||One credit card means one credit card bill and simpler finance management.|
The bottom line
Only you can decide how many credit cards you actually want to deal with. For that reason, you may need to do some experimenting to find the ideal number and combination for your needs.
Start with one credit card and don’t be afraid to branch out, but make sure you’re ready to put on the brakes when you feel you’ve hit your max. At the end of the day, the right number of cards allows you to maximize rewards and perks without overcomplicating your finances.