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If you don’t currently have any credit cards, we suggest starting with just one. If you’re more experienced, we suggest having two or more.
But the right answer for you really depends on your lifestyle, ambitions, and ability to be financially responsible. As long as you’re responsible, you can benefit from using as many credit cards as you deem necessary (while maintaining excellent credit scores).
If you’re going to be irresponsible the right number of credit cards is zero.
A better question to ask is “How many credit cards do I need?”
Start by applying for and using just one credit card, to learn how it works and to build credit.
It doesn’t have to be a rewards credit card, but you should generally go for one if you can get it. You may have to fall back to a secured credit card, but if you have good credit you’ll probably qualify for most cards on the market.
Then, once you know what you’re doing, consider expanding your credit card collection to earn more rewards and take advantage of more valuable benefits.
There are two primary reasons why we recommend getting a credit card if you don’t have one:
Perhaps you’re young and new to credit in general, just starting to build up your credit history. Or perhaps you have a credit history established with good scores; you can qualify for the best cash back cards, but have never actually used a credit card.
Either way, exercise self-control with your spending. A credit card is not free money. You’ll need to pay for anything you charge to it. Treat it more like a debit card, which is attached to your bank account and needs to be paid off regularly.
If you don’t use your credit card responsibly, it won’t help you in any of the ways we describe in this post. Instead it will be a burden, something you wish you never applied for.
But don’t be nervous, it’s not too hard to be a responsible card user. It’s easier than driving a car.
Here are two great pieces of advice to guide you:
Automatic payments will ensure you always pay on time, which in our opinion is the most important factor for maintaining high credit scores. It will also let you avoid accruing interest on purchases, which will help you steer away from credit card debt.
The rewards and benefits of credit cards are pretty clear — they’re advertised just about everywhere. But the effects of your first credit card on your credit might not be so apparent.
Having one credit card on your credit reports is generally better for your credit scores than having no cards, for several reasons:
There are some downsides to opening your first credit card. But if you’re only applying for one card the negative effects aren’t a very big deal, especially compared to the potential positive effects.
The actual effect on your credit scores will be based in large part on your particular credit history. Overall, the negative effects of opening a new credit card are usually quite small, and people typically don’t worry much about them.
Your first credit card might be exciting, and it’s normal to be a bit nervous that you could make a mistake. Some caution is a good thing. Soon enough you’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll be making purchases, earning rewards, and paying your cards off without a second thought.
When you understand how to use credit cards responsibly, there really is no limit to the number of cards you can have. The right number is simply whatever makes the most sense for you.
Without the right credit cards, you may be missing out on rewards and benefits that could save you some money and make your life more comfortable. Are you only earning 2% cash back on groceries, when you could be earning 6%? Are you flying all over the U.S., staring enviously at the closed doors of airport lounges? A better credit card could help.
With too many cards, on the other hand, you may feel overwhelmed or nervous about spending more than you can afford. If this sounds like you, it will probably be best to limit yourself to just one or two cards.
When it comes to personal responsibility, credit cards are a lot like cars. If you always drive safely, it doesn’t really matter how many cars you have or what car you’re driving. Having more cars doesn’t increase your risk.
But if you’re a reckless driver, giving scant attention to how cars work or the rules of the road, it doesn’t matter if you have one or 100 cars – you can do a lot of damage.
The same is true for credit cards. As long as you’re responsible with them, it doesn’t matter how many you have — they’ll help your credit, rather than hurt it. Actually, there are only a few situations in which it makes sense to ever close a credit card.
Overall, you should be comfortable with the number of cards you have. If you only need one card to get along just fine, that’s not a problem. But, if you can handle multiple cards, there are plenty of a few reasons why you might want to apply for more.
Even if you’re pretty satisfied with the cards you have now, you may find a great offer you could take advantage of. Some of the most attractive cards provide big signup bonuses and fancy travel perks, for example, which can put some cash back in your wallet or let you travel in style. Why not snag a load of bonus points when you can?
There are many good reasons to get additional credit cards. You can break most of those reasons and situations down into three categories:
There are quite a few reasons why you might want to get more credit cards. But there are also some important reasons why getting more cards won’t be a good idea.
Overall, most of these problems can be solved or at least mitigated by better knowledge of how credit and credit cards work. If you’re responsible with your finances in general, without overspending, you probably don’t have much to worry about when it comes to credit cards.
More credit cards are not necessarily better for your credit. But they aren’t necessarily bad for it either.
It’s more about how you use your cards, rather than how many you have. You won’t build credit faster with more credit cards — payment history is always counted month by month, no matter how many accounts you have.
As mentioned above, there are both positive and negative effects on your credit when you open a new credit card. So you should only apply for new cards carefully and deliberately.
However, there is one big benefit that comes from having more cards: more available credit. The more cards you have, the higher your total credit limit. This makes it easier to keep your utilization ratio low, which is better for your credit scores. But you can mess this up by maxing out your credit cards, of course.
Learn more about the effects of multiple credit card accounts on your credit in our Q&A video below, with credit expert John Ulzheimer.
Check out a couple related videos, in which John Ulzheimer touches on many of the other topics mentioned in this post:
After asking how many cards you should have, you might wonder: “How many cards can I have?”
In general, there is no limit to the number of credit cards you can have. Most card issuers let you apply for as many cards as you’d like, but there are some exceptions. Some issuers impose limits on the number of their cards you can get.
You can actually get duplicates of cards from most issuers as well, giving you even more options. But take note that signup bonuses are usually only available once every one or two years, or once per lifetime for American Express.
|Issuer||Max Number of Cards||Duplicates Available|
|American Express||No limit||Yes|
|Bank of America||No limit||Yes|
|Capital One||Varies by card||Yes|
|USAA||No limit||Yes (potentially)|
|U.S. Bank||No limit||No|
|Wells Fargo||No limit||No|
We’ve discussed many of the reasons why you might want to apply for more credit cards. Now for a similar topic: why you shouldn’t usually close credit cards.
There are at least five reasons why you should typically keep cards open:
If you close a credit card, your credit utilization may change significantly after your credit reports update. If you’re carrying a balance on any other cards, you’ll see your utilization increase. If you weren’t carrying a balance there will be no change in utilization.
When it comes to account age, closing a credit card won’t have an immediate effect. That account will actually remain on your reports for ten years after it’s closed, and it will be included in the calculation for average account age throughout that time. But after that it will drop off your reports, and you’ll see your average account age change.
All that being said, there are also some situations in which it makes sense to close a credit card.
If you’re trying to avoid the annual fee of a card by closing it, you may have another option. Some cards with annual fees can be downgraded to other card products, with either lower or no annual fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (Review), for example, can be downgraded to the Chase Freedom® (Review) or some other Chase cards.
This will let you keep the same account on your credit reports, where it will continue to help your utilization, account variety, and average age. You can contact your card issuer to ask if a downgrade is possible for your particular card.
So, how many credit cards should you have? There is no magic number or perfect answer. The right number of cards for you depends on your lifestyle, your finances, and what you plan to spend money on.
Buying lots of groceries or gas? Paying hundreds of dollars for travel every year? Trying to pay off a balance at a lower interest rate?
It makes sense to have a separate credit card for each of these situations. It might even make sense to have more than one for each case, depending on what you tend to buy and how much you spend.
The key is to use your credit cards responsibly, no matter how many you have.
Your credit scores can improve simply from having one credit card on your reports, all other things being equal. More credit cards after that won’t necessarily give you better credit scores, although they can make it easier to keep your utilization low. And don’t forget about all the benefits of having multiple cards that aren’t related to your credit scores.
How many credit cards do you think a person should have? How many do you have? Let us know in the comments below!
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