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How Many Credit Cards Should I Have?

Do you know how many credit cards are too many for you?There are several benefits of having a number of cards - but also risks to consider. What's the norm for Americans and is there a magic number? Here are all you need to know.

You can trust the integrity of our unbiased, independent editorial staff. We may, however, receive compensation from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article. Our opinions are our own.

Table Of Content

Do you know how many credit cards are too many for you?

The truth is that there’s no way to know how many cards you should have. All we can do is give you some guidelines that will help you along the way.

When it comes to the cards that you do have and the credit limits that they have, you’re looking at an impact on your credit score and your ability to get loans and even rent an apartment.

What’s the Norm for Americans?

With so many options on the market, credit cards offer more than just a convenient way to make purchases. With cash back, rewards and other incentives, it was considered commonplace to have multiple cards. However, in this chart using Shiftprocessing data, we can see that the average number of cards per person in the US has dropped from 3.7 in 2009 to 2.7 in 2019.

This shift could be due to the more competitive credit card industry, where card issuers are offering even more incentives to retain their customers. On the other hand, it could also be a result of consumers using other types of finance rather than relying on credit cards.

Number of Cards per person (USA)

When it comes to most American’s, Experian says that most people have 3.1 credit cards on average, with an average of 2.5 retail cards.

That shouldn’t be too surprising either, since retail cards are quite simple to get. When it comes to different generations, however, the numbers are slightly different.

 Silent Generation Baby Boomers Gen XGen YGen Z
Average Number Of Credit Cards3.03.53.22.51.4
Average Number Of Retail Cards2.32.72.62.01.5

When it comes to Baby Boomers you’ll see they have the highest average between all of the generations at 3.5 with Gen Z having the lowest average at 1.4.

It might seem like these are high numbers, but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that people actually have less credit cards than they did before the recession occurred.

In fact, about 169 million people were in possession of one or more cards by mid-2017.  The number of cards that consumers have continues to increase for all but subprime lenders, the numbers are still lower. Approximately 110 million new cards were actually opened in 2016, which was actually about 50% more than what was found in 2010 and was at least somewhat higher than every year since 2007.

How Many Credit Cards Can You Have Before It Hurts Your Credit?

According to credit bureaus, five or more accounts on your credit report is usually a reasonable number of lines to build good credit over time. Keep in mind that five accounts mean a mix of credit and loans. So, 5 credit cards might be too many.

It really depends on how you use the credit cards though and if you are making payments on time. If you are using the credit cards responsibly and paying off the balance every month, having many credit cards will not hurt your credit score.

If you are maxing them out though and only making minimum payments, you might see a drop in your credit score.

Why Do You Want More Cards?

If you’re the type of person that pays off your balance entirely each and every month there are a few reasons that you might actually want to have multiple cards.

  • Specific Cards – You may want to get a rewards card, a dining card, a card without foreign transaction fees and more. If you’re good about using them and paying for them you’ll get great benefits, but you might have a hard time getting them in the first place. After all, they tend to require higher credit scores and then they return with high-interest rates.
  • Improve Your Credit – If you have several credit cards you can actually decrease your debt-to-credit utilization ratio because you’re going to have less debt and more available credit. At least, if you keep your ratio under 30% you’ll be able to do that. If you open new credit cards your credit continues to go up and your ratio continues to go down, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t be charging a lot on those cards.
  • Backup Plan – If something ever happens to the primary card that you use you’ll have another card available for you while you’re waiting to get the other card replaced.

Benefits of Less Cards

There are several benefits of having a number of cards but there are some things to consider as well.

  • Debt to Credit Utilization – If you add more debt each time you add new credit cards you’re going to increase the debt to credit utilization ratio that you have and that can mean you’re actually getting a big hit to your credit score.
  • Loan Abilities – If you keep opening up too many credit cards or if you already have too many open it could actually make you less likely to get approved when you need something more. After all, even if you have very low debt, having that credit available means that you could be too much of a risk.
  • Maintain On-Time Payments – If you have fewer credit cards you’re also going to have fewer payments to make, and that’s going to make a huge difference. If you have a lot of credit cards you could struggle just to make sure all the payments are made on time.
  • Keep a Handle on Spending – Having only a single credit card or a couple of credit cards means you have a lower chance of actually spending more than you should, contrary to having multiple credit cards.
  • Get into Debt Trouble – If you have too many credit cards you could easily find yourself in debt, and big debt. If you have fewer cards you’re going to have a chance of maxing it out, but you can only max out what you actually have available.

Can You Live Without a Credit Card At All?

Before applying for any credit card, keep in mind that you have the option of not having one at all. For the 20% of American adults who do not have credit cards, using only cash or a debit card linked to a checking account works well. It is possible to live and thrive without the use of a credit card.

According to FDIC commercial banks' annual reports, credit cards loans increased three-fold from 232.4 million in 2001 to 734.7 million in 2020. However, this has not been a linear trend. During economic hardships, there have been noticeable drops in demand. For instance, in 2008, the loan demand rose to 405.4 million from 375.6 million in 2007.

However, in 2009 credit card loans fell to 375.6 million. You can observe a similar trend from 2018 to 2020, where in 2018, the loans stood at 803.6 million, but in 2019 the demand rose to 846.1 million, only to drop in 2020 to 734.7 million.

Chart - Credit Card Loans of FDIC-Insured Commercial Banks to Individuals 2001-2019 (in billion USD)

The key to using credit cards responsibly is to pay your bills on time. People who find it difficult to stay out of debt and make their payments are probably better off without credit cards. In many cases, the benefits of credit cards can quickly turn into drawbacks if they are not used responsibly. For example, while using a credit card can help you build a good credit score, it can also have the opposite effect.

When it comes to cash, the only money available to spend is what you have on hand or have saved. For some, this is an effective method of budgeting. The addition of a debit card to the mix provides convenience and allows for online purchases.

While life without credit cards makes sense for some people, it also comes with a few drawbacks. A credit card is often the first opportunity for many young people to build credit. Finally, if you don't have an emergency fund, credit cards can provide a quick source of funds in times of need, such as when your car breaks down.

Credit Card Can Help You Build Credit – But There Are Other Ways too

One disadvantage of not having a credit card is the limited rewards potential. There are a few bank accounts that provide debit cards that earn rewards for purchases, but they are few and far between. Credit cards also add an extra layer of security when transacting over the internet. Thieves can drain your bank account if they gain access to your debit card. Furthermore, some services, such as car rental, are extremely difficult to obtain using only a debit card.

Living without a credit card will make it more difficult to build a credit score. This can make major financial decisions, such as obtaining a mortgage, more difficult.
There are, however, other options for establishing credit, and establishing credit should never be the sole reason for incurring debt. Young people, for example, can use student loans to build their credit profile or build a credit profile by becoming an authorized user on the account of a responsible credit user. You can also obtain a car loan or lease and make on-time car payments. or obtaining a secured loan, also referred to as a collateral loan

Still, for those who do not have other loans, a credit card paid in full each month can help build credit for a future home purchase.

That Magic Number

Okay, so there actually isn’t a magic number, but you’re likely going to want at least a single credit card. The most important thing is actually going to be your use of the card rather than anything else. You’ll also want to pay attention to your payment history and your credit utilization ratio. These things will make an even bigger impact on your score.

New accounts can actually improve your score because you’ll have more credit available to you and that means the debt you have is going to be a lower percentage of the available credit.

For those who can, spending on each of your credit cards with a small amount is going to be better than having a lot of money on a single card, especially if you’re looking at your utilization rate. Just don’t forget that financial institutions generally look at credit utilization overall and with individual credit cards. For those who are actually responsible with their cards and who are actually doing well with paying off balances, it’s possible to improve your payment history overall.

For those who spend more than what they actually earn it can result in debt that they just can’t pay back, especially if there are more credit lines available. If you make a late payment you could be in serious trouble, especially if you can’t keep track of your cards.

How Many Cards Do You Actually Need?

If you want to make sure you have the ‘right’ number of cards you’re going to want to look again, because there really isn’t anything specific. What you should be paying attention to is how you spend money and what you’re really looking for. For someone who shops a lot at grocery stores it’s possible to find cards with rewards and points back up to 6% cash back.

For those who fly a lot it’s important to look at cards that have good airline mile returns. Those who stay at hotels may want cards that can offer hotel rewards. Those who are shopping all over may want a rate for just about everything they buy. So, keep a closer eye on the specific rewards that you’re entitled to.

Look at how department stores work as well. If you’re shopping most at a specific card you may actually be able to get rewards because of those partnerships. Having a balanced card that you can use wherever you need to go is going to be extremely important.

But how many cards you should have will depend on what you’re actually in need of, though you want to make sure you have at least one option to improve your score.

Should I Get Another Card?

Even having two credit cards can be too many if you can't afford to pay your bills, don't need it, or don't intend to use it. While getting a new credit card can sometimes help your credit score by lowering your total credit line utilization, getting a lot of cards in a short period of time is not recommended.

Many card issuers have even put rules in place to combat this phenomenon, which has arisen as a result of customers attempting to game the system by signing up for multiple credit cards in order to earn bonuses and then canceling after meeting the spending requirements.

You’re going to need to look at a few important things to make sure you know the right number of credit cards for you.

  • Is your current debt under control?
  • What the balance you currently have? How about your credit score?
  • Are you a big spender? What about your self-control?

People that aren’t caught up in the middle of debt and who pay their balances every month can have as many credit cards as they want and won’t have to worry about having multiple cards.

People who aren’t used to credit cards, however, or who got a bankruptcy or who have spent too much on their cards, secured cards might be best. What you need to know most is that you’re going to put yourself on a system to hold yourself accountable, no matter what you’re doing.

Should You Carry a Credit Card For Emergencies?

Credit cards can be good to use for emergencies as long as you don’t overuse them. As long as you can pay the balance back the next month, using a credit card for emergencies is a common way to pay for purchases when you don’t have the money right away.

Only charge the amount you need to your credit card for emergencies and try not to charge more to the card than you need. If you can’t pay the balance back the next month, try to at least pay the interest that might accrue on the purchase. 

FAQs

Even though 18 might seem young for a credit card, it’s important to start building credit early. If you are prone to overspending and might use your credit card more than you should, it might be best to only have one credit card, especially when you’re young. Check out credit card for students to find some options for your needs.

There isn’t a set number of credit cards that a person should have. How many you should have depends on your spending habits and your financial situation. In most cases, adults have two to three credit cards.

There’s not a magic number of credit cards that is too many. However, if you have too many credit cards that are not being used, it can hurt your credit score. It can lower your credit score because your credit utilization will be too high, even if you aren’t using the credit cards very much.

If you are maxing out all the credit cards, you might see your credit score decreasing. You never want to be too close to your credit limit because it shows you might be a risky borrower and might be living above your means.

You can apply for as many credit cards as you want in one day (as long as it's allowed by the issuer), but that doesn’t mean you should. Every time you apply for a credit card, you will get a hard report on your credit report. This can lower your credit score by a few points each time you apply for a credit card.

Waiting between credit card applications can ensure you don’t get see a drop in your credit report. It’s recommended you wait at least 90 days between credit card applications.

If you have many offers from credit card companies, it might be overwhelming to find the best one for you. One easy way to choose the right credit card is to pick the one with the lowest interest rate. A low interest rate and a low APR mean you will owe less over the years because less interest will accrue each month.

You might also want to take the credit limit into mind. Get a credit limit that is beneficial for you. For example, if you need to make big purchases, you might want to get a higher limit. You should also consider where you live and the types of credit cards. For example, some businesses in small towns and other countries don’t accept American Express, so some American Express credit cards might not be beneficial.

According to a report by The Nilson Report, Citi Bank was the leading credit card issuer in 2020, with 95 million credit cards. It was closely followed by Chase bank, with just a margin of 12.6% at 83 million credit cards. The two were the only banks that issued over 80 million credit cards in the period. USAA and U.S. Bank trailed in the list with 10 and 14 million credit cards, respectively.

Chart: Biggest Credit Card Issuers in the U.S. in 2020 (in millions)