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  • Writer's picturePoints By J

How Many Credit Cards Should I Have?

When I was 16, my mom added me as an authorized user on a credit card. She specified it was for emergencies and groceries only.

She also said, “It’s really important that you learn how to use credit cards responsibly. When you start applying for your own, you should only ever have one or two. Always pay them off on-time and in-full.”

I accepted all that as true, good advice. And it mostly was! With one exception: “only ever have one or two.”

The truth? Having several credit cards can be part of a very healthy credit card strategy.

I now carry 12 credit cards, and my credit score is over 800. How is that possible?

  • I applied for them slowly (waiting at least 90 days between applications).

  • I kept my spending on the cards low after the sign-up bonus minimum spend (never spending more than 10% of my available credit limit on each card).

  • I pay my bills on-time and in-full every single month (autopay is my favorite).

  • I keep a close eye on my credit report (checking for accuracy).

In this post, I’ll reveal how many credit cards you should have based on your credit score, spending habits, and interest in opening new cards.

To find the most relevant information, click the situation below that fits you best:

How Many Credit Cards Should I Have

 

Situation 1: You carry a balance on one or more credit cards.


Answer: Have 0–1 cards with no annual fee. If you have any cards with an annual fee, ask to downgrade to a $0 annual fee card. If you find that having a credit card creates a temptation to overspend, consider using a debit card only for 3-6 months.

If you have credit card debt, you’re not alone. In August 2023, the New York Federal Reserve Bank reported that Americans’ credit card balances surpassed $1 trillion for the first time.source


It’s not a good record to set. Paying interest on household spending can feel like quicksand. Often, people with credit card debt pay more in interest than they paid for the expense itself. If you are in this situation, the most important thing to do is focus on paying down your debt.

Do not focus on earning credit card points. Do not worry about credit card benefits. If it would help to control your spending, consider using a debit card or cash for a period of time.

If you’re paying credit card debt interest, then travel hacking and credit card rewards are pointless. You’ll pay far more in interest than any benefit you’re getting.

I say all of this with love and compassion. Credit card debt is a tough monster to slay because it only grows with time. But it is not impossible! You can do this.

 

Situation 2: Your credit score is under 720, you don’t carry any credit card debt, and you’re interested in getting more free travel from your credit cards.


Answer: Keep just 1–2 cards.

Your credit score could be under 720 for a myriad of reasons: maybe you’ve just started building a credit history. Or perhaps a missed payment caused your score to slip but you’re working on bringing it back up.

Whatever the case, you’re in a great position to double down on responsible credit use. Continue to pay any debts on-time and in-full every month. Use less than 10% of the available credit limit on each card. Over time, this will cause your score to rise.

Why does this matter? You’ll need an excellent credit score to be approved for the best travel reward credit cards.

How many credit cards should you have to build credit? That’s ultimately up to you, but I would recommend focusing on 1–2 cards. Keep your oldest credit accounts active (to maintain credit history length, which helps your credit score).

If you’re looking for your first credit card to help build credit, check out this post with some great starter card options.

How many credit cards should I have

 

Situation 3: Your credit score is over 720 and you don’t want more than 1–2 credit cards in your wallet—but want to maximize rewards.


Answer: Keep just 1–2 cards, and make sure they suit your needs.

If you’re not interested in having more than 1–2 credit cards, that is absolutely okay! You can still earn rewarding card benefits and points that suit your goals and lifestyle. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the cards to keep:

How many credit cards should I have

 

Situation 4: Your credit score is over 720, you don’t carry any credit card debt, and you like the idea of applying for new credit cards each year to benefit from sign-up bonuses and other card benefits.


Answer: Apply for up to 3 cards each year. Maintaining responsible credit habits will be absolutely crucial. The most important tips:

  • Wait at least 90 days between credit card applications.

  • Always meet the minimum spend to get your sign-up bonus.

  • Continue to pay all your cards on-time and in-full.

  • Don't apply for any credit if you plan to apply for a large loan (e.g., a mortgage) in the next year.

If this is your situation, it sounds like you understand that credit cards’ sign-up bonuses are the best way to get a big stash of points for free travel. Plus, you’re in a good position to be approved for most cards you want with your strong credit score (especially if you’re 780+).

The number of credit cards you should have will vary, as it depends upon:

  1. How long you’ve been in the points earning mindset.

  2. The number of credit cards you feel comfortable opening annually and in the long-run. This is a very personal decision that you will need to decide for yourself.

Please keep in mind the "5/24 rule" - if you have opened 5 or more new credit card accounts (from any bank) in the past 24 months, you may be automatically declined for certain Chase credit cards.


Naturally, you’ll accumulate cards over the years. This is why it is so important to choose cards that you know you’ll get value from longer-term (at least 1 year beyond the sign-up bonus). The reason?

Your goal should be to rarely (ideally, never) cancel a credit card. The best cards for credit card points earning and travel benefits are here.

If you ever get a card with an annual fee, and eventually feel like you’re not getting the value you expected out of the card, follow these steps:

  • Call the card company and explain your situation. Something like: “I’m considering getting rid of this card because it’s not giving me the value I expected. Are there any retention offers available on my account?”

  • If they say no or if the retention offer isn’t valuable to you, your next step is to try downgrading to a $0 annual fee credit card. This keeps your account open and maintains its history length. Plus, you can avoid a cancellation. $0 annual fee cards that you don’t use often don’t do any harm to your credit by sitting safely in your sock drawer. And remember, keep all of your passwords well-protected and regularly updated.

  • As a last resort: If you’re not getting value out of an annual fee card and there isn’t a $0 fee card available to downgrade to, your only option is to cancel the card. Try to do this as infrequently as possible, as it dings your credit score.


How many credit cards should I have

How many credit cards should I have

How many credit cards should I have

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