How many credit cards should you have?

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Once you begin exploring credit card offers, you’ll quickly notice how wide and varied the best credit cards are. You’ll find that many credit cards offer travel rewards or flexible rewards points, while others let you earn rewards good for statement credits or cash back.

There are also credit cards that give you 0 percent APR on purchases, balance transfers or both for a limited time, which can make them a good option if you’re hoping to consolidate debt or you’re seeking a short-term loan.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to pick just one credit card. Most people choose to have different cards for different needs. According to recent data from Experian, the average consumer has three to four credit cards.

But, how many credit cards should you have? Are you someone who can “get ahead” with credit without dealing with its pitfalls?

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.

Read on to find out why you might want multiple credit cards, in what scenarios you’ll be better served by a single card and how to decide just how many credit cards is too many for you.

Why you should have multiple credit cards

There are definitely 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 issuer.

Instances where it can make a ton of sense to have multiple credit cards include the following:

Reason to have multiple cards Advantages
You want to earn different types of rewards Having multiple credit cards lets you rack up different types of rewards (cash back, travel rewards, etc.) you can’t always earn with 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 a diverse set of perks 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 Having 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.

Why you should have only one credit card

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.

What are some situations where you might want just one credit card?

Reasons to have one credit card Advantages
You want 0 percent APR on purchases for a limited time If you don’t care about rewards and you mostly want 0 percent APR, 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 life simple One credit card means one credit card bill and simpler finance management

If you’re relatively new to credit, don’t feel like you need to have multiple card—even if you think you could benefit. In the beginning, it makes sense to choose one card and stick with it as you establish positive credit habits.

For the most part, consumers usually lean into juggling multiple cards as they become more confident in their finances and improve their credit enough to qualify for the best credit card offers.

How to choose the right credit card combination

Picking a credit card combination can feel overwhelming since there are so many different types of cards to choose from. Ideally, you’ll pick a card combo that helps you yield the most in rewards while helping you score perks you want or need.

For example, let’s say you want to maximize cash back, so you select a card with rotating categories like the Chase Freedom Flex℠. This card offers 5 percent back on up to $1,500 spent in quarterly bonus categories that change every three months, then 1 percent back. Plus, you can earn bonus rewards on groceries your first year, travel through Chase, and dining and drugstore purchases. But the Chase Freedom Flex earns only 1 percent back on regular spending.

Since you want to earn a higher return than that on miscellaneous purchases, you could opt for a card that lets you earn a better flat rate on regular spending. A good option would be the Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ Card, which yields 2 percent cash back with no annual fee.

By pairing these two cards, you would get a high rate of rewards in multiple categories like groceries, dining and drugstore purchases, as well as in rotating categories that change every three months.

The addition of the Wells Fargo Active Cash means you could use it for all non-bonus spending to earn 2 percent back on those purchases, where you would otherwise only get 1 percent with the Chase Freedom Flex. The Citi® Double Cash Card also offers 2 percent back on all purchases (1 percent as you purchase and 1 percent as you pay the balance).

Another angle on this combination is to swap out a rotating category card, with its activation requirements and varied spending perks, with a card that offers a consistently high rewards rate on a category you regularly spend in.

For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express gives 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in annual spending, then 1 percent after that) as well as 3 percent at U.S. gas stations and on public transit. Since its base rate is also just 1 percent cash back, that’s where that solid 2 percent cash back card comes into play.

Of course, card combinations can be more complicated than that for people who travel, as well as individuals who are small business owners. In either case, many consumers opt to pair up cards from the same issuer that let them maximize rewards with multiple cards then pool them in one place.

For example, many consumers opt for the Chase trifecta, which includes the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card. This combination of cards lets users score elite travel perks while earning a high rate of rewards on everyday spending and racking up points on business-related bills.

Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be used for travel through Chase, transfers to airline and hotel partners, merchandise, gift cards or cash back, many consumers love this program for its flexibility.

The Amex trifecta is also popular among people who like to earn rewards in the American Express Membership Rewards program. This card combination lets users maximize personal and business spending while letting them access travel benefits. Cards in this trifecta include the American Express® Gold Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.

Whatever you decide, make sure you pick a credit card combination that lets you maximize your rewards points and get access to different kinds of benefits. If you’re after travel-related rewards instead of cash back, you should also choose a card combo that lets you pool points with your partner or with yourself across multiple cards.

For example, the Hilton Honors program is well known for letting its members pool points. Chase Ultimate Rewards is also popular for letting individuals pool their points in one account, and for letting you pool with a spouse or partner living in your own household.

Multiple credit cards: What to consider first

Before you sign up for a handful of credit cards, make sure you have a reason for it, and that you have a plan for what happens next. If you have a partner, you may want to get them involved in your plan as well. Here are the main considerations to keep in mind as you craft your credit card plan.

Can you earn multiple sign-up bonuses?

If you plan to sign up for more than one credit card in order to maximize the credit card rewards you earn, you’ll want to spread out applications over the course of many months. This is due to the fact many rewards credit cards offer a bonus worth a few hundred dollars in rewards, but only if you spend a set amount of money within a few months of time (e.g. spend $3,000 within three months of account opening).

Make sure you can meet minimum spending requirements using regular spending and bills, and space out applications for new cards so you aren’t stuck trying to earn too many bonuses at once.

How’s your credit score?

You’ll need very good credit to qualify for the top rewards and travel credit cards. Also keep in mind that each new application will place a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can cause short-term damage to your score.

Your best bet is checking your credit score to see where you stand before you apply for any credit card, let alone several over time.

Can you pool points?

There are some instances where it makes sense to get multiple credit cards within one program that lets you pool points. Also, consider whether you and your partner can both apply for the same card, and whether the program you’re using lets you pool credit card points with family members.

Do annual fees make sense?

Make sure you consider annual fees as you search for the right combination of credit cards. The more fees you pay each year, the more rewards and perks you’ll need to be earning to still come out ahead. If you don’t spend enough to earn a significant amount of rewards each year, or if you rarely travel and won’t be able to take advantage of many perks, it’s possible you may be better off with credit cards that don’t charge an annual fee.

Are you prone to debt?

If you have struggled with debt in the past or you are prone to charging up balances you can’t afford to pay off, you should probably avoid credit cards, and especially any situation in which you have several to manage. When debt is a problem, sticking to cash or debit cards will likely leave you better off in the end.

What about your credit?

Having multiple credit cards isn’t dangerous to your credit on its own because your credit rating will largely be determined by how you actually use your credit cards. For example, you may see damage to your credit score if you pay bills late, carry large balances or apply for too many cards in a short amount of time.

Also, know you don’t have to close credit cards if you’re not using them, and keeping old cards open can actually help increase your credit score. If you have a card with an annual fee and you’re tired of paying it, try downgrading to a no-fee version instead of closing the account.

The bottom line

How many credit cards to have is a personal decision, but it’s one you shouldn’t take lightly. After all, you’ll do best with multiple cards if you sign up for options that complement each other. For example, pick a few cards with different earning rates in categories you spend the most in, or pair cards within a single program that lets you pool points before transferring to your favorite airline or hotel program.

If it all seems like too much, then that’s perfectly OK. Having one credit card can still be immensely helpful, whether your goal is earning rewards or maintaining access to an emergency line of credit. If you decide to have one credit card, just make sure it’s a good one.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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