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- There is no right number of credit cards — it depends on how many you can manage.
- Having multiple credit cards helps reduce your utilization rate and provides lenders with more information to better gauge your creditworthiness.
- If you apply for several credit cards within a short period, it could negatively impact your credit score.
- Most people should have at least two credit cards in case of emergencies or fraud.
- Keeping a high number of cards allows you to maximize rewards and increase your credit score over time, but there's a larger risk of mistakes and problems.
When you begin exploring credit cards, you’ll quickly notice the best credit cards come with widely varying offers. From travel rewards to cash back and 0 percent intro APRs, it can be challenging to narrow your choices.
The number of credit cards you should have varies by your unique financial needs and preferences. In some cases, carrying several credit cards in your wallet every day makes sense. In others, you’re probably better off with a single primary credit card that meets all your needs.
Here’s what you need to know about having multiple credit cards and tips for how to most effectively pair them to maximize your rewards.
Is there such a thing as too many credit cards or too few?
There is not a strict universal limit on the number of credit cards that is considered to be “too many” or “too few.” Your credit score won’t tank once you hit a certain number. For most people, having too many credit cards likely means you’re losing money on annual fees or having trouble keeping up with bills — and that varies from person to person.
If you are well organized, you may be able to handle 10 or more credit cards and keep track of their benefits, fees and payments without any problem. If you’re a frequent traveler and want to 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. Some power users may have 20, 30 or more cards in their household.
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.
Conversely, having a thin credit file can make it difficult for lenders to determine 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 only have a few accounts. Plus, your credit behavior can have an outsized 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 harm your credit score.
How many credit cards should you have?
Your ideal number of credit cards is something you’ll have to determine on your own. For reference, the average American has between three and four credit cards. Where you fall compared to that baseline should depend on the following factors:
- Your ability to manage payment due dates and pay off your credit card balances monthly
- 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 regularly
- 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
One or two well-chosen credit cards should be a good fit for those who like to keep it simple. If you only have one credit card or want 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, 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.
For most people, having at least two credit cards is a good idea. If you only have a single card and fall victim to fraud, lose your card or encounter other common problems, having a second card as a backup is helpful.
Most people fall within this category. At this point, you can probably earn rewards in all of your major spending categories. Ideally, you’d have an excellent flat-rate card (rewarding at least 2 percent cash back or 1.5 points or miles on all purchases) and two to four other types of cards that reward your most frequent purchases.
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, create a spreadsheet or find an app to help track 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?
All credit accounts impact your credit score, including credit cards.. While the number of credit cards isn’t a specific credit score factor, getting a new card will likely impact your score.
How it can hurt
- A hard inquiry: When you apply for a credit card, a hard inquiry is placed on your credit report, and you may see a temporary drop in your credit score. However, that should typically last for only around six months to a year, assuming you keep your balances low and pay on time. Hard inquiries remain on your credit score for two years.
- Too many applications in a short time: “New credit” makes up 10 percent of your FICO credit score, meaning that several new accounts and recent inquiries will cause your score to decrease. For the best approval odds and credit score, you should wait 3 to 6 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 for 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 drops to about 8 percent (1,000 / 12,000 = .08.3).
- Build credit: By using your credit cards wisely and bringing down your utilization ratio, you could help improve your credit score.
- Avoid a thin credit file: If credit scoring models have more input about your credit usage from multiple cards, they can better assess your creditworthiness.
- Length of credit history: This is another factor that goes into your credit score. It includes the average age of your credit accounts, as well as the age of your oldest account. Having more than one credit card can improve the length of your credit history over time.
When multiple credit cards make sense
There are many situations where you can benefit from more than one credit card, especially for rewards enthusiasts 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
|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 already organized and those who pay their credit card balances in full each month. If you carry a balance and pay interest, those costs often outweigh the value of rewards and benefits.
Also, remember that juggling a few credit cards can mean juggling multiple annual fees. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you should ensure 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 at the 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
|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.
|You are happy with one card’s specific benefits.
|If you’re looking for a 0 percent APR card, a balance transfer card or only care about earning cash back, picking one card in line with your goals could be a reasonable choice.
The bottom line
Only you can decide how many credit cards you want to deal with. Therefore, you may need to experiment to find the ideal number and combination for your needs.
Start with one or two credit cards and don’t be afraid to branch out. Make sure you’re ready to put on the brakes, however, 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.
There is no right number of credit cards to own, and owning multiple cards gives you access to different rewards programs that various cards offer. Owning five cards would give you a bigger total line of credit and lower your credit utilization ratio. If you can manage five cards at once, it’s not too many for you.
When you own multiple credit cards, you have to keep track of all their bills and any annual fees. You must stay organized enough to manage all of these cards. Also, if you apply for a number of credit cards within a brief period of time, it could negatively impact your credit score since lenders will make hard inquiries into your credit.
Having a single credit card means your total line of credit will be lower than with multiple cards, which could increase your credit utilization rate. Additionally, you won’t be able to tap into multiple rewards programs offered by different cards. You will also have a thinner credit file and the length of your credit history may be less robust than if you had multiple cards.