Credit experts are quick to point out that while having too many credit cards can hurt your credit score, it's less the number of credit cards you carry; rather more how you manage them and the circumstances under which you obtain them which matters.

Several different factors should be considered in determining the optimum number of cards for you. Understanding how your credit score is calculated is key to determining whether you are carrying too many credit cards, or perhaps too few.

The Five Credit Scoring Factors

  • Payment History – 35%. The biggest score factor is your payment history. Although this consists of all of your credit payments from all of your debt, your credit card payments are the biggest variable. Carrying multiple credit cards can be difficult to manage from month to month. Credit card companies are the least forgiving for late payments and are quick to report them to credit bureaus if they are even one day late.
  • Debt-to-Credit Ratio – 30%. Also referred to as credit utilization, this ratio measures the outstanding debt on your credit cards in relation to available credit. The ratio hurts your score if it exceeds 30%. Having more credit cards can actually improve your score because they provide more available credit. However, it can also hurt your score if your total outstanding debt exceeds 30% of your available credit.
  • Length of Credit History – 15%. This is where people with multiple credit cards can get into trouble. Building a responsible history of on-time payments improves your score over time. People with excellent credit scores have an average age of 11 years for all of their cards, with the oldest card being 25 years old. If your credit history is short, adding too many new cards can keeping dragging the average age of your credit accounts down, which can drag down your credit score. 
  • New Credit – 10%. Whenever you add a new credit account, it can cause your credit score to drop a few points. The first time may be when the creditor makes an inquiry on your credit report. The second time, when the account is actually opened. Too many inquiries and too many new accounts opened within a short period of time are red flags for credit bureaus, often signaling increased credit risk.
  • Type of Credit – 10%. Credit bureaus like to see how you manage debt across different types of credit accounts. If all of your accounts are of one type, such as credit cards, it could hurt your score. Your credit portfolio should consist of a mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, auto loans or a mortgage.

The Number of Cards Should Fit Your Circumstances

If you are a novice credit card user, focus on building a credit history with one or two cards and paying off your balance in full each month. Adding credit cards for specific purposes, such as a good rewards program or for obtaining better travel insurance, can also make sense as long as they are not added within a short period of time. 

If you have been using credit cards for several years, it may make sense to add a card to obtain a lower interest rate or to transfer a balance to a 0%-interest card, but you need to focus on keeping your debt-to-credit ratio below 30%. 

If you think you may have too many cards, the worst thing you can do is start closing some accounts without considering the impact on your credit score. Closing older credit cards can shorten your credit history, which can hurt your score. Payment history on closed accounts eventually falls off your report, which can also hurt your score. Closing card accounts also reduces available credit, which can hurt your debt-to-credit ratio if you have outstanding balances. It is better to leave your credit card accounts open and just put them on ice. 

The Bottom Line

Having a lot of credit cards can hurt your credit score under any of the following conditions: 

  • You have so many payments that you haven’t been able to keep up with all them
  • Your outstanding debt is more than 30% of your total available credit 
  • You have added too many cards in too short a time 
  • You lack diversity in your credit accounts 

Good reasons to acquire more cards include: 

  • Getting a low-interest rate 
  • Transferring a balance to a 0%-interest card
  • Obtaining better perks, such as a rewards program 
  • Adding available credit to lower your debt-to-credit ratio

However, if you do have too many cards, don’t simply start closing accounts. That can never help your credit score. Instead, leave them open but just stop using them.