How to choose your second credit card

5 min read
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Many people hang onto the same credit card for a long time; in fact, according to a 2019 survey by CreditCards.com, 30 percent of Americans have never changed the card that sits at the top of their wallet.

Maybe you have been using your old student credit card since graduation. Or you opened a retail card with your favorite store years ago and still use it today. Maybe you opened a card a few years ago, then maxed it out and you’re still working on paying off the balance.

But if you only have one credit card to your name, there are plenty of reasons to explore opening a second, from maximizing rewards to eliminating debt balances and improving your credit score. But there are also some pitfalls of adding a credit card that you should keep in mind.

Here is a guide to help you find the right second credit card for your wallet and use it wisely:

Reasons you may want a second credit card

Taking on a second credit card can have a positive impact on your credit score and your spending habits. Here are a few instances in which you may want to look into a new card:

You want to maximize rewards better

When you opened your first credit card, chances are you were looking for a starter card to help you build credit or focused on earning a sign-up bonus that didn’t hold much long-term value.

Take a look at your purchasing habits to help narrow down rewards categories that best match your spending. If you tend to eat out every night instead of cooking at home, a card with restaurant rewards, like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, will probably be better for you than grocery rewards. If you rack up mileage on your car but don’t usually travel by plane, then gas rewards, like those offered by the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, will be of more value than airline rewards.

Use your new rewards card in tandem with your current card to further maximize with complementary categories. Or consider a card with universal rewards, like the Citi® Double Cash Card (get 1 percent cash back when you buy and 1 percent when you pay your balance) or Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card (1.5 percent cash back on every purchase).

Just make sure you stay on top of what you’re spending each month to avoid getting into debt.

You want to pay off debt balances

Another reason to open a second credit card is to help yourself get back on track and pay down debt. If you’ve racked up a high balance on your credit card, speed up your debt payoff with a balance transfer card that offers a zero percent interest introductory period. Introductory balance transfer periods generally range from 12 to 18 months, but you can get up to 21 months interest-free with the Citi Simplicity® Card (then a variable APR of 14.74% – 24.74%).

If it wasn’t one big purchase but an extended period of overspending that forced your balances up, though, make sure you don’t use your new card as an excuse to spend even more. Set limits for yourself and begin practicing healthier credit habits so you don’t go down the same path again once the introductory period ends.

You need to finance an upcoming large purchase or offset a vacation cost

In addition to zero percent interest on balance transfers, many cards offer introductory zero percent interest periods on purchases as well.

If you’re planning to make a big purchase in the near future that you’re not sure you can pay in full, set up a payment plan for yourself by opening a second card with zero percent interest purchase intro period. You can find cards with zero interest lasting 6, 12 or even 15 months on purchases. The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, for example, offers 15 months of zero percent APR on purchases (then 14.99% – 23.74% variable), plus 1.5 percent cash back on everything you buy.

You can use a second credit card to help pay for an upcoming vacation, too. Look for a rewards card with a great sign up bonus that can help offset the cost of your travel, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

You should do some planning ahead, though. Sign up bonus periods generally fall within the first 3 months of account opening, so give yourself enough time to earn the bonus before you book your vacation. Or, you can do the opposite. If you choose a card that earns great rewards on booking travel, use it to purchase your airfare or hotel and you can work towards the sign up bonus with the cost of your trip.

You’re looking to increase your credit score

One of the best reasons to diversify your wallet with a second credit card is to increase your credit score.

While it’s true that you may experience a drop in your credit score after opening a new card due to the hard credit inquiry, your issuer will make on your report and a lowered average age of accounts, opening a new card can ultimately have a great impact on your score.

Your second credit card will increase your overall credit limit, which means your spending will make up a smaller percentage of the credit you have available, resulting in a lower credit utilization ratio. Credit scoring models also like to see a healthy credit mix on your report, and having a mix of different credit cards (alongside loans and other payments) can help show lenders that you’re able to responsibly manage your debts.

When should you open a second credit card?

While there are plenty of reasons why opening a second card may be beneficial, there are times when it may actually be harmful for your finances. Here are some things to consider if you’re on the fence:

When you’ve got a grasp on paying balances each month

With two credit cards, you’ll have the ability to spread out your due dates and keep your utilization low, but it can also be a slippery slope to accumulating more debt.

If, with one credit card, you’re already having trouble remembering your payment deadlines or difficulty paying balances in full, focus on building better practices with the card you have before moving on to another. You want to establish good habits like making timely payments and watching your utilization rate, then you can follow through with those habits as you accumulate more cards.

When you’ve already applied for a mortgage or auto loan

Because of the temporary drop your credit score may experience after opening a new card, be careful about the timing of your new credit card application.

Even just a few stray points could make a big difference in both your loan approval and the interest rate that you’ll qualify for on the loan. If you’re planning to apply for a long-term loan like a mortgage or auto loan within the next couple months, it’s smart to wait until after your loan is approved to put in an application for a new credit card. Over the long run, even a marginally better interest rate on your loan could save you hundreds of dollars, which is likely better than even the best credit card offer.

Bottom line

When you’re thinking about taking the plunge and opening a new credit card, dedicate time to doing your research beforehand. Look into new cards that align with your spending and think about how they may complement your current credit card rewards. Then, be smart about not taking on more than you can handle and timing your applications to align with your other financial goals.