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Almost 170 million Americans have at least one credit card.
But how many cards should you have?
Credit cards can help you build credit and earn rewards, if managed properly. But how you use a credit card, or cards, is more important than how many you have.
First of all, using credit cards to make purchases you can’t afford will hurt you in the long run, no matter the number of cards you have. The average credit card has an annual percentage rate (APR) of about 16%. That means a $1,000 purchase could end up costing you over $2,000 if you only paid the minimum amount due each month.
Responsible credit card use, however, can be an excellent way to establish your credit history. When you pay your credit card bill on time each month, that’s a positive mark on your credit report, which pushes your credit score higher. Plus, if you’re paying your card off in full you won’t ever pay interest. Many cards also offer rewards that can offer you outsized value, as long as you aren’t carrying over balances from month to month — because you would pay interest that might negate those benefits.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive in and find out how many credit cards you should really have, and if there is such a thing as too many cards.
Does the Number of Credit Cards Affect My Credit Score?
Let’s start with some basics: Your credit score consists of a few different factors. This includes payment history (35%), the amount of debt you owe versus the credit you have available (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and credit mix (10%). The number of cards you have does not enter into the formula at all.
It is worth noting, though, that your credit score does take a small 2- to 5-point hit every time you apply for a new card. It’s a relatively small hit, though, and is usually worth it if you get a credit card that suits your financial needs. It’s also reabsorbed quickly, provided you don’t use that new card to rack up more debt.
How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?
The truth is there’s no hard and fast rule as to how many credit cards you should have. It all comes down to practicing financial responsibility: Paying your bills on time, and in full whenever possible, and using smartly the perks that your credit cards come with.
Having at least one credit card can help raise your credit, which can then be used for things such as getting approved for a mortgage or a car loan. Some cards also earn cash back or travel rewards. If you trust yourself to manage a budget, you will benefit more from a credit card than you will from using cash or a debit card.
Conversely, if you are not in a position where you’re able to keep to the financial discipline that managing credit requires, a credit card will likely not be for you — and we’d recommend using a debit card (or cash) and setting a budget before applying for one.
Before applying for a credit card, especially one that offers rewards, it helps to have an idea of what you want to do with the credit, or with the rewards.
“Use it for the cash rewards, for the travel benefits that come along with some of the credit cards, just make sure you have a goal in mind,” says Marc Russell, founder of the personal finance Instagram account Betterwallet.
How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?
If you find yourself having a hard time keeping track of your credit cards or paying your bills, or you’re unable to use some of the cards’ benefits, that’s a good sign you may have too many on your plate — whether that’s one or 10.
There really isn’t an upper limit if you pay the cards’ bills in full every month and get enough value out of their perks, especially for cards that have annual fees. Those perks can range from airline fee credits to lounge access and more — all useful tools to have at your disposal when travel rebounds. (Many travel-focused cards are now offering rewards that have nothing to do with travel, as their issuers recognize that people are staying at home.)
You also don’t have to keep a card whose reward structure doesn’t work for you anymore, although we generally advise to downgrade expensive cards you no longer need rather than cancel them, which can hurt your credit score.
Closing a credit card can hurt your credit score. Instead, if you have a card you don’t want or need anymore, just stop using it. Leave it open and make a small purchase with it every few months.
There is no definitive number of credit cards the typical person should have.
Having a credit card (or cards) is all about managing them — and in turn, your finances — responsibly. That matters a lot more than how many cards you hold.
“Personal finance is personal before it’s financial, so you have to look at yourself and your situation to figure out what’s the best route for you to take,” says Talaat McNeely, co-founder of His and Her Money. “If you know you don’t have the discipline to pay your credit cards off, you can end yourself up in a mess.”