There are good reasons to keep signing up for new credit cards, and that’s true even if you already love the ones you have. Credit card issuers are constantly rolling out new offers, including Today’s best credit cards with generous bonuses.
But it’s not hard to see how this strategy could become dangerous over time. If you regularly use multiple cards for purchases, you may have trouble keeping track of your spending and bills. Not only that, but too many credit cards can mean more annual fees and benefits to keep track of.
How many credit cards is too many? And is it possible to have several credit cards without harming your finances?
Is there such a thing as too many credit cards?
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, “too many” credit cards is the point at which 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.
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 that shouldn’t last for more than 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, your ratio goes down to about 8 percent ( 1,000 / 12,000 = 8.3).
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 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 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 auto-pay 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.
What to do if you have too many credit cards
Before you cancel a card, know that you’ll lose that account’s credit history and available credit. As a result, your credit score might dip. But a decrease in your credit score is nearly always better than carrying debt or paying unnecessary annual fees.
|Reason you have too many credit cards||Solutions|
|You’re paying too many annual fees||
|You’re struggling to keep track of charges and payments||
|You keep racking up debt you can’t afford to pay||
|You can’t keep track of your credit card perks and benefits||
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.