Credit cards offer access to money during emergencies, provide important perks like cash back or travel rewards, and much more. Each card is different, too, and it can be tempting to apply for multiple cards.
So how many credit cards should you have? Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In this article, you can explore different avenues to take and determine how many cards you can manage responsibly.
Yes, you can definitely get to a point where you have too many credit cards. However, that doesn’t mean that having multiple credit cards is a bad thing. It really comes down to how you manage your cards and which credit cards you have.
According to a study done by The Federal Reserve, 83% of American adults have a credit card. The average number of cards per individual is approximately 3. With that being said, you may be better off with 1 or 2 credit cards, while someone else would be better off with 3 or 4.
Many factors go into determining how many cards are too many. Your ability to use the cards responsibly, the rewards programs offered, the APR, annual fees, and all the rest should be considered. It is also important to understand that having multiple credit cards carries both advantages and disadvantages.
Having more than one credit card can offer quite a few benefits as long as you manage your accounts wisely. Here are a few pros to consider.
Your Available Credit Increases
The more credit cards you have, the more available credit you have. That’s great for purchasing power, but it also has other advantages if you manage your credit card accounts responsibly.
For instance, when used correctly, having multiple cards can decrease your overall credit utilization. That helps to increase your credit score and makes you a better fit for low-interest rates on other financial tools, like home and auto loans.
Many Credit Cards Offer Rewards
With multiple cards, you can earn in different ways, from airline miles to gas points and more. By splitting your purchases up between cards with different rewards, you can save money in other areas of your life, offsetting some of the cost of using those cards in the first place. In some instances, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars on airfare or everyday purchases.
Some Credit Cards Come With Extra Perks
While many credit cards are barebones, others offer important and valuable perks. These can include things like 0% APR balance transfers, special introductory interest rates, introductory miles or point offers, insurance protection on purchases, and more. You can strategically choose cards that offer perks and extras that add value to your life.
Just as there are benefits to having multiple credit cards, there are also major setbacks to keep in mind. It’s important to go into the process knowing as much as you can to avoid these potential pitfalls.
Credit Cards Are Easy to Overuse
It’s very easy to lose track of what you’ve spent on multiple cards, making it more likely that you’ll overuse them and end up carrying more debt than you really wanted.
The only way to really combat this is to be very conscious of what you spend, when, and which card was used. Tracking your spending either manually in a notebook or using a smartphone or computer app can help you avoid overusing your cards and keep your debt low.
You Have to Juggle Multiple Different Accounts
The more cards you have, the more things you’ll need to juggle – due dates, interest rates, the end date of special offers, when payments are made and due, and much more.
Actively using more than one card (not just owning multiple cards) will mean having to balance all of these things all the time. Again, tracking your spending and knowing when payments are due can help minimize the potential for fallout like paying your bills late.
Multiple Cards Mean Multiple Costs
Using credit cards usually comes at a cost unless you’re able to pay the balance during the grace period. For most people, the reality is carrying some amount of balance from month to month.
That means you’re going to pay interest on that amount. You will also see costs rise in other areas. For instance, those annual fees? They can add up very quickly. We recommend thinking long and hard before applying for any credit card that charges an annual fee.
In a word, yes. Having more than one credit card will affect your credit score. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The more cards you have in good standing, the lower your credit utilization and the higher your credit score will rise.
With that being said, the way you go about applying for cards will also impact your credit score. Never apply for multiple cards within a short period of time. For every credit card application, a hard inquiry will show up on your credit report. Each hard inquiry reduces your score by 5-10 points.
Multiple inquiries in a short period of time can drop your score quite a bit. It also tells card issuers that you’re trying to apply for a lot of cards, which can indicate that you’re in financial trouble. Banks don’t want any part of your financial problems and you’ll likely see a lot of your applications declined.
If you’re looking to get another credit card, it’s important to brush up on what you need to prioritize. Picking the right credit card can improve your financial standing. If you pick a card that isn’t great for your needs and lifestyle, it can become a burden. Here are five tips to help you maximize your success when it comes to credit cards:
Tip #1: Make sure you’re a good fit.
First and perhaps most importantly, make sure that you’re well suited for the card. Is it designed for those with excellent credit, but your score is under 700? Best leave it alone, as you’ll likely be declined and suffer a hit to your credit, further dropping your score.
Tip #2: Apply only if you actually want the card.
Never apply for credit cards just to have them. Yes, there’s something to be said for having multiple cards to drop your credit utilization ratio, but if you don’t want the perks and benefits the card offers, it’s better to avoid it.
This will also help you avoid applying for multiple cards in a short time. As you research each card, its fees and interest rates, and the perks and benefits, your score will recover from the slight hit from each application.
Tip #3: Make sure the card rewards fit your needs.
Sure, all those travel points might be appealing, but if you don’t travel by air? The reward program is pretty pointless. Today, there’s an incredible diversity of reward programs and types out there, so there’s no need to settle.
Shop around, take your time, compare the offerings, and find cards that offer rewards that you want and will actually use.
Tip #4: Check your spending to pick the best fit.
Not sure which type of credit card is right for you? Take a look at your spending. Where do you usually spend the most? Do you eat out a lot? Stay in hotels frequently? Fly often? Or do you spend more money on gas for your car and groceries for the home?
Choosing a credit card with rewards that fit your regular spending will make the card worth getting.
Tip #5: Find out what you prefer.
Finally, think about your personal preferences. Travel points might be intriguing, but do you want to jump through the hoops required to use them? Or would cashback be the simpler and more expedient choice?
Your personal preferences will play a major role here because if you’re not really inclined to use the rewards, they don’t offer much in the way of value and a different card might be the better choice.
With a better understanding of how to choose the right cards, it’s important to know how to manage them. Having multiple credit cards can be a good thing, but it can easily become a negative situation that damages your credit and leaves you in debt.
Here are some good habits you can take into practice when it comes to managing multiple credit cards.
Don’t increase your spending.
One of the most common pitfalls with having multiple credit cards is an increase in spending. To be clear, you should certainly use all of your cards here and there, but you should take your normal spending and spread that across your cards. You should not add new spending unless you have a corresponding increase in income (and remember, credit cards are debt, not income).
Follow the 30% rule.
Follow the 30% credit utilization rule for each of your credit cards. That means you need to use 30% or less of each card’s total limit. However, you also need to apply that rule to your total amount of credit, not just the individual cards.
So, if you have $20,000 in available credit, you can spend $6,000 per month on your cards and stay within your utilization window. Note that you don’t have to spend that much, nor should you if your income doesn’t support it. Spend 30% or less.
Keep your accounts active.
One trick to having multiple credit cards is that you have to use them, or you’ll lose them. Card issuers exist to make money, and they don’t make money if you don’t use your cards. That’s why it is important to spread your purchases across your cards so that they all stay active, and the issuer stays happy.
Pay off your balances every month.
In an ideal world, you will be able to pay off your purchases every month. This helps you avoid paying high-interest charges, but it’s not always possible. Try your best to spend within your means.
Pay on time all the time.
If there’s one single piece of advice that you absolutely need to follow, it’s this: make your credit card payments on time or early. Never, ever pay late or skip a payment. If you are late on a payment or predict that you will be late on a payment, contact your card issuer immediately to see if you can set up a payment plan that will not affect your credit.
When you miss a payment, your card issuer may report that late or missing payment to the credit bureaus. This mishap will lower your credit score and will remain on your credit report for approximately 7 years.
Pay more than the minimum payment.
You can always pay just the minimum amount due but realize that this will make repayment incredibly slow (think in terms of years). Paying more than the minimum helps reduce your debt faster and also looks good to lenders.
Do not close your accounts.
While it may be tempting to close old credit card accounts, do everything in your power to keep them open. When you close a credit card account, it affects your credit history. Credit history is a big part of your overall score, so closing the account could drop it. Be sure to think carefully before closing any accounts.
It’s up to you to decide how many credit cards are right for you. That number is dependent upon your specific financial circumstances. Take some time to do your research, compare offers, and consider your needs before getting another credit card. As long as you manage your credit cards responsibly, there’s no harm in having more than one.