Ever wonder if there is a right number of credit cards you should have? Or better yet, at what point could having too many credit cards affect your credit? Is there such a thing as too many cards?
Several experts weigh in on this issue.
President of The Ulzheimer Group, LLC, longtime credit expert John Ulzheimer says that there is no optimal number of credit cards to have. The number is going to vary from person to person, based on their specific credit card needs. Some people function just fine with one card. Some people need more because of business travel.
A good rule is not to focus so much on how many, but more on how you're managing the cards that you do have. For example, someone with one maxed-out credit card will have a lower credit score than someone with five unused credit cards. If you can keep your aggregate balances to no more than 10% of your credit card limits then you'll be in great shape regardless of how many you choose to have.
Credit and debt expert Kevin Gallegos, vice president of New Client Enrollment and Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network, LLC, advises consumers to use only one credit card. "Most adults need to carry one credit card for personal business. It is not necessary to use more than one," he says. Make sure, however, to pay on time, every time; charge only what you can pay off in full each month (in other words, live within your means). On-time payments are the most important factor in developing good credit and upping or maintaining credit scores.
He warns credit users, "If you hold other cards and wish to no longer use them, think carefully before canceling a credit card with a long (positive) history. The longer you hold a card, the more valuable it is in your credit score determination. So, do not close other accounts, but put the cards away in a safe place."
This is not to say you should not use credit cards. On the contrary, Gallegos emphasizes using credit. Credit cards can be especially helpful for significant purchases like electronics where you might need to take advantage of the extended warranty that is sometimes offered with a card. A credit card also offers greater protection against fraud with online purchases. If you need to dispute a transaction, you can report it to the card issuer. You are not liable for the charge until the dispute is resolved.
Consultant and former managing partner at eCreditCards.com, Marc Vitulli says that the number of credit cards you carry should reflect your personal limits and ability to afford your monthly expenses.
The bigger question to ask yourself is, "At what point does carrying too many credit cards affect my credit?" Factors that play into the answer include current and past credit history, annual income, spending habits, and how many other types of credit you currently have (e.g., auto loans, mortgages, student loans and retail financing, etc.).
Vitulli says that if you are a younger person with little to no credit history, it will be difficult to carry more than one or two cards, as providers will be reluctant to issue more credit without much history. This is the opposite for a well-established spender with significant credit history. Having multiple credit cards won't really affect you until you reach a certain limit, say four to seven cards. This number can fluctuate depending on other types of outstanding credit you may have and on your credit history. Traditionally, credit bureaus like to see that you have established a responsible credit history without going overboard. Build Your Credit Score will show you how to get started.
The Bottom Line
When considering how many cards to carry, Vitulli summarizes it best. The most important factors for obtaining credit cards – and having credit cards affect your credit – are: the amount of time you've held your longest open card, any negative items on your credit report, the number of cards for which you've applied in the last year, and how large the outstanding open balances on your current cards are. So, consider all these factors when deciding on how many credit cards to carry.