How Many Credit Cards Should You Have? What’s Too Many?
The average adult has 5.6 credit cards: 3.1 cards that can be used anywhere and 2.5 store cards, according to 2017 data from Experian. But there’s no golden rule for how many credit cards you should have, or how many credit cards is too many. It depends on personal preference as well as your credit standing and organizational skills.
Using more than one credit card can help you save by allowing you to get the best terms for every transaction that you make. No single credit card offers the best rewards in every purchase category, plus the lowest rates and fees. But you can achieve that effect with a collection of cards that each excel in a particular area. For example, you could get the best cash back credit card for everyday spending, the best travel rewards card to earn extra on airfare and hotel reservations, and a 0% credit card before making a big-ticket purchase.
Using multiple credit cards for the wrong reasons, however, can get you into big trouble. Numerous credit card applications in a short period of time can hurt your credit score, for one thing. And even more importantly, having too many credit cards can lead to overspending, expensive interest charges, missed payments and even more credit score damage.
There isn’t a direct connection between how many credit cards you have and the results you see, though. Yes, the five states with the most general-purpose credit cards, on average, all have balances above the national average. But their credit scores are above average, too.
States with the Most Credit Cards
|Place||Credit Cards per Adult||Avg. Balance||Avg. Credit Score|
You can see whether applying for a new credit card makes sense in your situation by signing up for a free WalletHub account. We’ll run numerous simulations to determine the best move for both your credit score and wallet more generally, based on your credit history, current cards and financial priorities.Get Your Personalized Credit Analysis - 100% Free
Below, we’ll break down the general pros and cons of having numerous active credit card accounts. We’ll also explore how using one, two and three-plus cards might work and give you some more advice on how to choose your own ideal number of cards.
Pros & Cons Of Opening A New Account
If avoiding credit cards would force you to rely on cash and debit cards for your daily spending, you’ll also be more susceptible to pick-pockets and ATM fees. Plus, you’ll miss out on secondary credit card benefits such as rental car insurance, trip protection and extended product warranties.
There’s obviously another side to the story, too: closing a credit card account. Doing so could save you money if you’re paying an annual fee. But it could also hurt your credit score if the card in question is your oldest account. You can learn more from WalletHub’s guide on the benefits and drawbacks of closing a credit card..
Wallet Scenarios: How To Handle Different Numbers of Cards
We recommend having at least two open credit card accounts. It’s best for your credit score to keep your oldest account open, and you should be able to get an upgrade for everyday spending after a bit of credit building. But there are lots of ways to get the job done. So we’ll explore the value of 1, 2 and 3+ card scenarios in greater detail below.
1 Credit Card
Having a single credit card account is quite common, especially among people who are new to credit or working their way back from financial mistakes. Many people with more established credit opt for a single card as well, having closed their starter account and preferring the simplicity of one everyday spending vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with having one open credit card account, if more would increase the odds of mistakes and overspending. Just bear in mind that you might also be leaving some savings on the table.
2 Credit Cards
Having two credit cards allows you to adopt the Island Approach, in its most basic sense. If you don’t have any credit card debt, this might mean using a pair of rewards cards – one offering cash back across all purchases and another with travel rewards or discounts at your favorite retailer, for example. And if you have debt or are planning a big purchase that will take months to pay off, you should use a 0% card for financing and a rewards card for everyday spending.
You will save money on interest by separating balances that you carry from month to month from your everyday spending. You’ll know you’re overspending if finance charges show up on your rewards cards. And you won’t have to try to find one card that does everything well.
3+ Open Accounts
Adding a third credit card to your wallet lets you get more aggressive with the Island Approach. You could, for example, get the best rewards card for each of your three biggest monthly expenses (if you plan to pay in full). You could pair a couple of rewards cards with a 0% offer. Or you could have two core cards, which you supplement with the best initial bonus offer available.
If you already have three or more cards, there are valid arguments to be made for both opening a new one and also closing one old one after you do so. Having three or more cards enables you to cobble together the best terms and be opportunistic when it comes to limited time offers. But the more credit cards you have, the more financial management shortcomings will be magnified.
Tips For Choosing The Right Number Of Credit Cards
Expand As Your Credit Improves: The single most important factor dictating how many credit cards you should, or even can, have is experience. Do you have established credit or are you just starting out? The more of a novice you are or the worse your credit is, the fewer options you will have and the more you’ll want to concentrate on managing a single account responsibly. Above-average credit, however, will at least give you the opportunity to qualify for multiple accounts worth having open at the same time.
If you’re not sure where your credit stands, you can check your credit score for free on WalletHub. WalletHub is the only site with free scores and reports that are updated daily, which will enable you to see exactly how your rating reacts to each new card that you open or old card that you close. Depending on the results, our guides to building and fixing credit might come in handy, too.
- Prove You Can Manage One Card Perfectly: Whether or not you’re new to credit, it’s important to first master single card use before expanding your holdings. At a minimum, that means paying your bill on time for 12 consecutive months and largely avoiding debt. Otherwise, adding a new card to the mix will just complicate matters, increasing your costs and potential for credit score damage.
Automating Payments Is Essential: Setting up automatic monthly payments from a bank account is the best possible way to reduce the chances of missed payments and surprise debt. And it’s especially helpful when you have several due dates to keep track of. You’ll have the option to pay your entire bill, the required minimum, or a custom amount. Your choice will obviously depend on how much money you have in the bank, but we recommend paying in full whenever possible. Doing so is especially important for cards you don’t use regularly, as you could easily rack up months of finance charges on a small purchase that you simply forget about.
You can check out WalletHub’s Guide to ACH Payments for more information about automatically paying your credit card bills.
- Ask For A Higher Spending Limit: If you’re interested in a new credit card because you want to increase your spending power or decrease your credit utilization, consider asking your current card’s issuer to increase your credit line. This could allow you to avoid the hassle and risk that go along with applying for a new credit card. Check out our guide on How To Get A Higher Credit Limit for some helpful tips.
- Don’t Apply For New Cards Within Six Months Of Loan Applications: Each time you apply for a new credit card, your credit score falls a bit for around six months. This tells potential lenders that you are looking for additional spending power. And that means your available credit might not be as available as it seems. This won’t be an issue if you don’t need your credit score for something important in the months after getting a new credit card. But you’ll obviously want the best possible credit score when you’re applying for a mortgage or auto loan, for example. So it’s best to avoid opening a new card in the months before you do.
- Be Careful About Closing Old Accounts: The length of your credit history accounts for a healthy chunk of your overall credit score. And whether or not your oldest credit account is closed plays a particularly important role in this regard. Closing your oldest account won’t do as much damage if you have another open account that’s nearly as old. But it’s still a step that deserves careful consideration and should probably be avoided if your card does not charge an annual fee. You can learn more from our Guide to Cancelling Credit Cards.
If your decision about applying for a new credit card depends on whether a good enough offer is available, make sure to check out WalletHub’s picks for 2020’s best credit card deals. You can also try our free CardAdvisor tool to get a personalized recommendation.
Image: radmilla75 / Shutterstock
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