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, yet others only let you earn rewards good for statement credits or cash back. There are also an array of 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.

If you’re struggling to narrow down your options when choosing a credit card, you might wonder how many credit cards is too many.

In some cases, carrying several different credit cards makes a lot of sense. In others, consumers really are better off with a single credit card that meets all their 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.

The case for having more than one credit card

There are definitely situations where 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:

  • You want to earn different types of rewards. If you’re someone who wants to earn frequent flyer miles, hotel points, some flexible rewards and a top rate of cash back, you won’t be able to do all of that with a single credit card.
  • You are organized and able to stay on top of credit card bills. Multiple credit cards can make sense for people whose finances are organized already, as well as those who pay their credit card balances in full each month.
  • You’re a frequent traveler who wants a diverse set of perks. Consider getting several credit cards if you want varied perks like automatic elite status at hotels, airport lounge access, Global Entry or TSA Precheck credits, annual travel credits and more.
  • You have a small business. Small business owners should make sure they have a separate business credit card for all their spending and bills. Fortunately, many business credit cards also let users earn rewards.
  • You don’t mind paying credit card annual fees. If paying the annual fee on a few credit cards doesn’t bother you, multiple cards could be your best bet. Just make sure you are getting enough value in terms of credit card perks and rewards.

Why you might only want 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 credit card bill to deal with. There are other situations where one credit 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?

  • You want 0 percent APR on purchases for a limited time. If you’re striving to use a credit card for its 0 percent APR offer for some planned large purchases and you don’t really care about rewards, you’re better off finding the longest introductory offer you can find on a credit card with no annual fee.
  • You plan to use a balance transfer credit card to consolidate debt. If you sign up for a balance transfer credit card to get 0 percent APR for a limited time, you should transfer all the high interest debt you can and focus your efforts on debt repayment with that single card.
  • Cash back is all you’re after. You don’t need multiple credit cards to earn more cash back. Instead, focus on finding one cash back credit card with a high rate of rewards and other perks you want.
  • You’re averse to credit card annual fees. The best credit card offers tend to come with annual fees, and not everyone wants to pay to have a credit card.
  • You want to keep life simple. If you are worried about juggling multiple credit cards and credit card bills, you may be better off sticking to one card. After all, having just one card makes it much easier to track your spending and stay on top of your credit card bill each month.

How to choose the right credit card combination

If you’ve decided you want more than one credit card, you should try to pick cards that complement each other. 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 found 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. Ideally, you’ll also choose a combination of cards 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 plan 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 can 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 your spouse or partner could get the same card(s) as you, 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 balance them out.

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 where you have several to keep track of. When debt is a problem, sticking to cash or debit cards will likely leave you better off in the end.

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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