Credit Check: How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?

Credit Cards Man holding numerous credit cards

How Many Credit Cards You Should Have

Do you ever wonder how many credit cards you should have? It’s a common question among new and seasoned credit card holders. Unfortunately, it’s a rather complicated question with no single answer.

The good news? There are some things you can consider to determine how many cards you should have.

In general, it’s a good practice to have more than one card from different providers if you can handle it, each offering different rewards. For example, if one is a Visa that offers standard cash back, make your next one an American Express or Mastercard that has travel rewards.

There are a couple of reasons for doing this:

  • Two separate providers prevents you from being unable to spend in the event a Visa, Mastercard, or another provider has a network error. If your eggs are in one basket and that basket can’t be touched? You’re all out of eggs!
  • By having two cards that emphasize different reward types, you can pick and choose which card to use at which time to maximize the value of your dollar. For example, if you have a trip coming up, you can use your card that earns travel or gas points.

In short, you should ideally have at least two credit cards, but hesitate before plunging into a third. Obviously you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser before making any rash decisions!

Will Multiple Cards Hurt Your Score?

Numerous credit cards

You know two cards can have benefits, but what about three or four? Five? Not to sound like a high school breakup, but it’s complicated.

Both VantageScore and FICO—the two main ways credit scores are calculated—rely heavily on your credit card usage amounts. If you’re using too much, your score could go down. The same can be said for the length of your accounts. Too many new accounts could be bad, while older accounts might give your score a nice boost.

If you’re responsible and can feasibly balance multiple cards, your credit score should be just fine. If you’re especially careful with your card usage, multiple accounts could actually help your score grow quicker.

How Many Credit Cards does the Average American Have?

Number of credit cards the average American has

While two is an ideal benchmark for how many credit cards you should have, people in the United States have a varying amount.

The average American has roughly three credit cards. There are of course outliers, as it’s not unheard of for those with a high credit score to have upwards of 10 cards, or for someone with a poor score to have one or zero cards.

Again, multiple cards can be great and offer a nice selection of rewards while boosting your credit score. Unfortunately, 43% of Americans spend more than they make and carry a balance from month-to-month.

This speaks to the importance of only having multiple credit cards if you can manage your finances. Again, speak to a financial advisor before making any decisions!

Tips for Choosing the Right Credit Cards

How many credit cards a person should have

You now know how many cards most Americans have, and you’re probably getting a pretty good idea of whether or not you want to pursue another card. So, now you just run out and start applying for cards, right? But wait, there’s more!

Knowing what kinds of cards to look for is almost as important as knowing how many cards you should have. Multiple cards will do you no good if you’re not choosing the right ones. Your choices for cards are practically limitless, so here are some things to consider when reviewing them:

 

1. Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

Pay attention to the APR when considering new cards, as your APR is essentially your interest rate and impacts how much you’ll pay for using your card. Lower is better, but lower generally requires a better credit score as well. If you’re new to the credit game, don’t be alarmed if you’re looking at anywhere from 19-22% (or higher).

If you wind up with a card that has a high APR, it’s especially important that you don’t carry a balance from month-to-month, as the balance will grow on account of that hefty interest rate.

2. Annual Fee

Some cards, especially higher tier cards, will come with an annual fee. Annual fees can range anywhere from $25 to $500, and are generally charged all at once when the year rolls over.

Where this becomes problematic is that the fee itself accrues interest if left on your card. This can make the larger fees in the $100s, much more trouble than they’re worth. If you’re certain you’ll receive more value from the rewards on a card, then don’t let the fee drive you away, however.

3. Reward Type

Credit cards offer a number of rewards. Some offer general cashback, others offer a significant percentage back at certain restaurants, stores, or gas stations.

Think about your shopping habits, where you go the most, and what would be of most benefit to you when considering the various reward cards available. General cashback cards can be the most versatile, but if you go to a certain grocery store regularly and they offer a card with higher percentage rewards specific to their store, you might want to consider that.

4. Additional Charges

Make sure to carefully review the fine print and see what kinds of charges the card has for things like going over your credit limit, lacking sufficient funds to pay your minimum payment, and so on. You’ll also want to note what the minimum payment is to avoid getting slapped with a fee.

Getting the Most out of Your Cards

Credit card and assorted rewards

You’re only as powerful as the rewards you work with. (That’s the saying, right?) Knowing how to get the most out of your credit card is key.

 

  • Shop smart: use your reward card where it gets the most bang for your buck. If you have a few cards with different reward types, plan your trips around these cards if possible. For example, if you have a certain gas station card, try to find a route that has that gas station frequently available.Similarly, try to shop at your preferred grocery store, assuming you have a grocery rewards card. If you’re going somewhere without your preferred store, then save up your cashback rewards for your trip and use them on grocery or food expenses!
  • Save cashback for holidays and tax time: the holidays are a total joy, but they’re also a total burden on your finances. Save up your cashback rewards for holiday shopping to make things a little more stress-free. If possible, save up some cashback rewards for tax time as well. If you end up owing on your taxes, having that money stockpiled to throw at your card is a huge relief.
  • Don’t let rewards expire: some credit cards will have expiration dates on their rewards. Make sure you know of these rewards ahead of time. Also, if you’re using a card with travel perks, make sure there aren’t certain blackout dates for travel, as some cards will prevent you from using your rewards during high-volume periods.

 

Credit card rewards can be a huge boon to your finances and be a lot of fun to juggle, actually. Keep the above tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to getting the most out of your cards!

When to Cancel a Credit Card

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Breakups are never pretty. Still, sometimes you have to call it quits with a credit card. Generally, it could be better to keep a card open and simply not use it, as closing a line of credit can hurt your credit score in some cases.

So, when do you want to cancel a credit card? If you’re not using a card with an annual fee, or you’re simply too tempted to spend, it might be time to cancel.

When to cancel a credit card

Beyond that, you should simply stash your unused cards away in a desk or box and stop using them if at all possible. Having them open and free of any charges could be beneficial to your credit.

Credit Cards: Spend Responsibly

Credit card and receipt

Credit cards aren’t the boogeymen many people make them out to be. They can do wonders for your credit and practically pay you to use them, assuming you get the right cards and use them responsibly.

Always be mindful of your spending, don’t buy what you can’t afford, and treat them as a debit card to really keep your credit burden in check. Most of all, have fun with those rewards. Responsibility gets tiresome for even the most able of people. Don’t forget to take a breather and enjoy those rewards from time to time, you’ve earned them!

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