How many credit cards should you have?
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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 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.
Why you should have multiple credit cards
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 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 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.||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 makes 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 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.|
If you’re relatively new to credit, don’t feel like you need to have multiple cards—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.
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 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 card in order to maximize your credit card rewards, 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 sign-up bonus worth a few hundred dollars in rewards—but only if you spend a set amount of money within a few months of time (i.e., 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.
Additionally, it’s important to avoid applying for too many cards at once because numerous hard pulls on your credit file can hurt your credit score.
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. Tools such as CardMatch can help your narrow down your credit card search by telling you which cards you’re most likely to be approved for.
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. 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.
How do you pick the right card combination?
Pick a card combo that helps you yield the most in rewards while helping you score perks you want or need. For example, you can maximize cash back by pairing a bonus category credit card and a generous 2 percent cash back flat-rate card. This will help you 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.
Of course, card combinations can be more complicated 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.
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. If you already 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.
Do you accumulate debt easily?
If you’ve struggled with debt in the past or are prone to charging up balances you can’t afford to pay off, you should probably avoid credit cards—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.
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. If you want to get the best rewards from multiple credit cards, consider picking a few cards with different earning rates in categories you spend the most in. You can also maximize your rewards by pairing 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, 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.