How Many Credit Cards Should You Carry?

By Ana Gonzalez Ribeiro | May 15, 2012 AAA
How Many Credit Cards Should You Carry?

Ever wonder if there are a right number of credit cards you should have? Or better yet, at what point does carrying too many credit cards affect your credit?

SEE: Credit, Debit And Charge: Sizing Up The Cards In Your Wallet

Several experts weigh in on this issue.

The Experts
John Ulzheimer
President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com and recognized 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 your own personal credit card needs. Some people function just fine with one card. Some people need more because of business travel. A good rule of thumb is not to focus so much on how many, but more so on how you're managing the ones that you do have. For example, someone with one maxed out credit card is going to 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.

Kevin Gallegos
Credit and debt expert and vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network, LLC, Kevin Gallegos advices 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 we 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.

Marc Vitulli
Managing Partner at eCreditCards.com, Marc Vitulli has a specific case scenario opinion about the number of cards to use. He says that ultimately the amount of credit cards you carry should reflect your personal limits and the ability to afford your monthly expenses. However, he says the bigger question here is "At what point does carrying too many credit cards affect my credit?" There are many factors that play into this question including: current and past credit history, annual income, spending habits and how many other types of credit you currently have (i.e., auto loans, mortgages, student loans and retail financing, etc.).

He 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. There isn't much effect from having too many credit cards until you reach a certain limit, which at a high levels can be quoted at four to seven cards (and this number can easily fluctuate depending on other types of credit you have outstanding) depending on the individuals credit history. Traditionally, the credit bureaus like to see that you have established a responsible credit history without going overboard.

The Bottom Line
When considering how many credit cards to carry, Vitulli summarizes it best by saying that the biggest factor that plays into obtaining credit cards, and having credit cards affect your credit are: the amount of time since you held your longest open card, any negative items on your credit report, the amount of cards you've applied for in the last year and the amount of outstanding open balances on your current cards. So, consider all these factors when deciding on how many credit cards to carry.

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