Last Updated: April 3, 2021
Credit cards were invented in 1950 to make our lives easier — spend now, pay later. Thanks to this convenience, many people nowadays have more than one card.
You may be wondering:
How many credit cards should I have?
There can be too much of a good thing — having too many credit cards can lead to overspending and result in crippling debt. American credit card debt exceeded $1 trillion back in 2019, and we are scared to even look at more recent stats.
But let’s get back to the number that interests us the most:
How Many Credit Cards Should I Have?
We’re going to discuss the benefits of having multiple credit cards. But to delve deeper into the advantages, we first need to do some credit score talk.
A credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that indicates a person’s creditworthiness. It basically serves to evaluate the risk of lending money to a particular borrower. The lower the score, the higher the risk, and vice versa.
This is why having a good credit score is essential — it determines your chances of getting approved for loans and credit cards while also improving your borrower profile and helping you get better terms.
The most used credit scoring model is FICO, though VantageScore is an alternative.
The following factors affect your FICO score:
- Your payment history (making on-time payments)
- Amounts owed (your debt)
- Length of credit history (how long have your accounts been open)
- Credit mix (having both revolving and installment credit)
- New credit (opening multiple credit cards or other accounts in a short amount of time)
By having more than one credit card, you may end up with a low credit utilization rate. This is a calculation of the money you owe divided by the total amount available. Simply put, to have a good credit utilization rate, you need to have a higher credit limit and a lower balance.
A good credit utilization ratio is 30%. So, if your credit limit is $1,000 you should have a balance of $300 to achieve that ratio.
Now, when it comes to the length of your credit history (and credit utilization rate for that matter), you may be wondering:
Does it hurt your credit to close a credit card?
In short: yes, it can.
When you close a credit card, you are lowering your credit utilization ratio. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your oldest accounts open — as this affects the length of your credit history.
Next in line is the credit mix. Or the different types of accounts you have, such as credit cards, loans, retail accounts, etc. Try to have both revolving credit (credit cards) and installment accounts (installment loans). Managing multiple types of accounts is seen as a positive thing by creditors, so it has a favorable impact on your credit score.
Besides those mentioned above, there are other benefits of having multiple credit cards.
Let’s say you are planning on making a big purchase on your credit card, but all your current cards have high-interest rates. In that case, you can apply for a zero-interest card — and pay off your purchase during the introductory period where no interest is applied to your purchases.
And speaking of purchases, some card issuers give the option to earn cashback on the payments you have made using the card. The first credit card you opened probably didn’t offer many perks, as perhaps you applied when you had a short credit history or bad credit. As your credit score increases, it makes sense to apply for more than one credit card. That way, you can take advantage of credit cards with a generous sign-up bonus, or credit cards with a good rewards rate.
By having different types of credit cards, you can maximize the cashback you can earn and take advantage of the various perks offered.
Let’s say you are traveling abroad. You would naturally want a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. And speaking of traveling, you should probably consider a Mastercard or VISA card, as they are more widely accepted worldwide than American Express and Discover cards.
As you can see, there are many advantages of using different credit cards for various purposes.
But we still haven’t answered the question:
How many credit cards should I have?
When it comes to the optimal number of credit cards to own, there is no one size fits all. It really depends on your individual financial situation. As long as you can afford the annual fees and pay off your balance in full, there is no harm in owning multiple cards.
Yet, it’s possible to own too many credit cards.
How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?
If you can only afford the minimum payments (or sometimes not even that), then you have too many cards.
If you miss a payment, then you may see your credit score drop. Even delays affect your FICO. Thus, having too many accounts with balances increases your debt. And as we mentioned above, the amount you owe is also an important factor in determining your creditworthiness. What’s more, you will be incurring interest, and depending on your card issuer, you will need to pay penalty fees.
And lastly, there is the new credit factor to consider. Applying for multiple credit cards in a short span hurts your credit score. Each time you apply for a credit card, the issuer performs a hard inquiry. This can lower your score by approximately 5 points.
To sum up:
How many credit cards is too many?
You have too many cards if you can barely keep up paying off your balance and the fees involved. And even if you can afford to make only the minimum payments, you are still letting a lot of credit card debt accumulate.
So, is it better to cancel unused credit cards or keep them?
While it’s recommended to keep your oldest accounts open and to have more than one credit card, keeping all of your accounts open may do you more harm in the long run.
If you are a compulsive shopper, you may want to consider closing some of your cards with high fees. And remember, the first step of getting rid of debt is to control your spending and stick to your budget.
But before you close a credit card, make sure you consider the effect this can have on your credit score and decide whether it’s a step toward improving your overall financial situation.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to owning multiple credit cards. On the one hand, you can work on improving your credit score. On the other, you may start spending more than you earn.
Ultimately, there isn’t a single recommended number of credit cards to have that works for everyone. As long as you use them responsibly, you can enjoy all the perks they have to offer.
You need to be at least 21 to get a credit card. With a verifiable income or a parents’ permission, the minimum age is 18. Students can also apply and don’t have to earn big salaries to get credit cards.
If you want to build a good credit score and history, it’s recommended that you only use 30% of the credit available to you. The less you use, the higher your score will be, and it will also be easier to pay your debt.
In the USA, the average number of credit cards per person is between two and three.
Typically, it’s recommended that you wait three months before applying for a credit card after you got one. Some financial experts even suggest that you wait up to six months before opening a new account.
If you’re wondering whether or not to close one of your credit cards, you should first ask yourself: ‘how many credit cards should I have?’. If you’re struggling to cover the minimum payments and debt is accumulating, then closing a credit card may actually be a good idea. Just bear in mind the potential impact on your credit score.