How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?

The current Guinness World Record for most credit cards belongs to Walter Cavanagh who has 1,497 credit cards in his name. If you laid the cards end to end, they'd reach the top of a four-story building. Even though he has well over a thousand credit cards, Cavanagh only uses one of them and pays the balance in full each month.

Most people don’t need anywhere near that number of credit cards and couldn’t handle having the $1.7 million of credit available to them.

So what’s the best number of credit cards for the rest of us?

There’s no perfect number of credit cards that each person should have. It all comes down to your ability to manage the number of credit cards you actually do have.

American adults have an average of 3.1 credit cards, according to Experian in its 2017 State of Credit survey. Generally speaking, having just one or two credit cards is enough for most people. 

The Benefits of Carrying Multiple Credit Cards

With so many credit cards offering different perks and benefits, you can opt to have multiple credit cards for specific purposes. For example, you might have one rewards credit card that pays more rewards on groceries, another that pays more rewards on dining out, and another that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

With credit card issuers constantly introducing new credit cards, with better rewards and longer promotional periods, it’s easy to keep signing up for credit cards.

There’s actually a term for people who repeatedly sign up for rewards credit cards to earn the signup bonus - credit card churners. There’s a system to churning credit cards that has to be followed closely to avoid getting into debt and credit card trouble.

Having multiple credit cards can also help keep certain finances separate.

For example, you may use one credit card for personal spending and another credit card for business spending.

How Many Credit Cards is Too Many?

People with the highest credit scores have an average of 10 credit cards according to FICO. That number is an average, which means it’s possible to have more than 10 credit cards and still have a high credit score. Having high balances on your credit cards - relative to your credit limit - can hurt your credit score, regardless of the number of credit cards you have. Keeping your credit cards open for longer and paying all your bills on time are two other factors that help achieve an excellent credit score.

It’s not necessarily the number of credit cards you have but how you manage them that’s most important. The key with having multiple credit cards is to keep your credit utilization low, pay your balance in full each month, and never charge more than you can afford to pay. You have to be disciplined enough to recognize when you’re spending is getting out of control and practice restraint so you don’t create more debt than you can afford to pay off.

The Risks of Having Too Many Credit Cards

The more credit cards you have, the more diligent you have to be about keeping up with your balances and due dates, especially if you have balances on multiple credit cards.

Using a calendar or reminders may be helpful for ensuring that you keep up with your due dates.

Having too many open credit cards could hurt if you’re trying to get approved for a mortgage loan. Many lenders consider the amount of credit available to you in addition to the amount of debt you’re carrying. Just having the ability to rack up high credit card debt can keep you from getting a mortgage.

If you’ve demonstrated you can responsibly handle credit, credit card issuers are more willing to give you credit cards with higher credit limits. Having lots of credit available to you can be tempting. If you tend to carry a balance on your credit card, it’s better to limit the number of credit cards you have. That way you don’t increase your debt cost by paying interest on multiple credit card balances.

No matter how many credit cards you actually have, it’s best to carry no more than two or three with you at a time. You’ll have a backup credit card in case your primary credit card is declined but you also minimizes your losses in case your purse or wallet is lost or stolen.