Open your wallet. How many credit cards do you see? 15? 3? None? No matter how many, you still find yourself asking, “How many credit cards should I have?”

When you look in your wallet, do you have a sea of credit cards? Do you have a card for every store in the mall plus several major cards? If you do, you may be wondering if you have too many credit cards. Many people may wonder if there is a “right” number of cards to have. If you find yourself asking, how many credit cards you should have, we have some answers.

  • Is there a right number of credit cards every person should have?
  • Are there any “must-have” credit cards?
  • Will it hurt my credit if I have too many cards?
  • How does my payment history impact my credit?
  • Can credit cards improve my credit score?
  • Should I open more credit accounts to get access to more credit?
  • Will having too many cards with zero balances affect my credit?
  • How Many Credit Cards Should I Have?

Is there a right number of credit cards every person should have?

There is no cookie cutter answer here. It depends on the individual and their credit history. According to the credit reporting agency Experian, the average American has 3.1 credit cards. Some people use this as a guide, but it truly varies from person to person.

Are there any “must-have” credit cards?

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have at least two major credit cards. This includes Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Whichever two cards you choose should offer some type of rewards whether it’s points to redeem for rewards, mileage, or cashback. 

You want to have two different major credit cards because there may be some merchants that only take MasterCard or Visa. If you have two of the same types of cards, you may have difficulty when you’re at certain locations.

As you choose which credit cards to add to your wallet, beware of those that charge annual fees, especially if you don’t plan on using the credit card that often. You may end up spending money unnecessarily. Even if you’re earning rewards, they may not be worth it depending on the annual fee you’re paying and how often you’re using the card.

Will it hurt my credit if I have too many cards?

Every time you apply for a credit card, including those impulse purchases where you sign up for a retail credit card to get a percentage off, counts as a hard pull on your credit. If you open up several credit cards in a short amount of time it portrays you as a greater risk. This is especially true if you’re new to the credit scene.

Although new credit only accounts for 10 percent of your overall credit score, any credit inquiries will stay on your report for one year. You don’t want to open up a new credit card every few months. If you do want to open up several new accounts at once, you may want to do it within a short amount of time. This way all of the inquiries will be on your credit report at the same time, not spread out.

The number of credit cards you open, especially in a short amount of time, will impact your age of credit. The length of your credit history makes up 15 percent of your overall credit score. If you opened one credit card ten years ago, the length of your credit history would be ten years. But, if you opened another card two years ago, the length of your credit history would be cut down to 6 years. The ten years would be added to the two years and then divided by two to get a new credit history length of 6 years.

If you’re thinking of buying a car or home soon, it’s also not advised to open up a new credit card within at least six months of applying for a loan for either of those purchases. Doing so will lower your credit score by a few points because it is a hard inquiry on your credit. You don’t want your credit to be affected at all when you’re planning on making a big purchase like a car or home.

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How does my payment history impact my credit?

It doesn’t matter if you have one card or 10 cards. Falling behind on just one credit card can impact your credit. Also, keep your balances in mind. It doesn’t matter if you have high balances spread across ten cards or on two cards, it still reflects the amount of debt you have. This will impact your credit score.

Can credit cards improve my credit score?

Credit cards can help to improve your credit score if you’re responsible for them and pay your bills on time. When you make payments on time and the age of your credit history begins to increase, you’ll see your credit score rise. The important thing is to maintain that credit score.

Should I open more credit accounts to get access to more credit?

Instead of applying for a new card to get more credit, ask for an increased credit limit on the cards you already have. This is not only the easiest way to get more credit but also the quickest. As your credit improves, you can apply for new credit cards over time.

Will too many cards with zero balances affect my credit?

No, it won’t. If you have more credit cards, it means you have more credit at your hands. The trick is to use it wisely. When you have multiple cards with zero balances, your available credit rises while your utilization rate goes down. This rate is how much debt you have versus your total available credit.

This is a reason why it’s not advised to close credit card accounts even if you’re not using them. Having this extra credit on hand can help improve your credit score. But, if you are closing credit accounts to stop using them, then that’s a different story. Although it will impact your credit, not paying your credit card bill or paying it late will as well.

If you’re someone who has a lot of credit cards, it’s not a good idea to carry them all with you all of the time. This is mainly for safety in the event your wallet gets stolen.

How Many Credit Cards You Should Have?

Here’s the answer that you have been waiting for. But it does not come without several unspoken disclaimers. The exact number of cards that you should have is …….. (drum roll please) ……..wait. I’m going to have to divide this into 2 answers.

Answer 1)

If you currently have over $2.5k in available credit and you can comfortably make your payments on time, then the number of credit cards that you currently have is the number that you “should” have. It doesn’t matter if you have 3 credit cards or 10. Your credit score is based on your available credit, not the number of credit cards that you possess. But canceling current accounts can actually decrease your score.

Answer 2)

If you currently don’t have any cards and want to start building your credit, then the answer is two. Credit bureaus consider 1 to 2 inquiries every two years to be good or above average. 3 to 5 inquiries is considered average. And 6 or more inquiries within 2 years is considered below average. So applying for up to 2 credit accounts every 2 years is about as responsible as it gets.

Here’s the main 6 areas that impact your credit.

Factors That Impact Your Credit

Credit FactorBelow AverageAverageGoodExcellent
On-Time Payments<90%90% - 97%98% - 99%100%
Oldest Credit Line0 - 2 Yrs3 - 7 Yrs8 - 24 Yrs25+ Years
Percent of Credit Used61% - 100%31 % - 60%11% - 30%0% - 10%
Inquiries in Last 2 Years6+3 - 51 - 20
New Accounts in Last 2 Years7+5 - 63 - 40 - 2
Available Credit$0 - 2.5K$2.5K - 15K$15K - 50K$50K+
Table data from Capital One's CreditWise.

The Bottom Line

In the end, you really shouldn’t have any more credit cards than you can handle. If you’re finding it difficult to make the minimum payments on your credit cards, that could be an indication that you have too many. Also, if you have a spending problem, you’ll want to control the number of credit cards you have. Narrow the number of cards you have to the ones that you actually use. 

If you have no debt and pay off your balances, you could be that person who has several credit cards and has no problems. But, if you have just received your first credit card, have filed for bankruptcy in the past, and like to spend a lot, it may be best to stick with just one credit card until you can get things under control.

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