How many credit cards should you have?
The answer: It depends. Here’s what to consider as you determine the right number for your finances, goals and lifestyle.
These days, having multiple credit cards is common—but is it a good idea? Yes, if you want more flexibility (and rewards) than a single card can give, and you can handle the responsibility of keeping on top of the number you choose. But before you settle on a number, consider how you’ll balance your overall debt load, the health of your credit score and your lifestyle needs.
Why you might want to have multiple credit cards
- You can have a separate credit card just for online shopping. This can help you keep track of your spending and let you keep an eye out for identity theft or fraud.
- You have a backup if one of your credit cards is lost or stolen. It helps to have a second card available if it takes more than a day to get a replacement card.
- You might save money on interest charges by transferring credit card balances to a new card that has a lower APR or a promotional rate. Learn more tips for balance transfers.
- You can have an extra card as backup when traveling abroad. This is helpful in case your primary card isn’t accepted where you travel.
- You can be strategic with your rewards. Depending on the different rewards each offers, you may decide you want multiple credit cards to earn the richest possible rewards in different categories. For example, a private-label card might give you the best benefits at your favorite store but for purchases everywhere else, you might prefer to use your travel rewards card to work toward your next vacation.
Things to watch for if you have multiple credit cards
- Consider leaving older cards open, even if you apply for a new card. This will give you a longer credit history, which is good for your credit score.
- Use all cards occasionally to prevent them from becoming inactive. If you have multiple credit cards, you may end up with cards you don’t use. If your cards become inactive, it could affect your credit. (Check with your card issuer to see what constitutes inactivity.) Some cards also have yearly fees. Be sure to understand the conditions of all your accounts so you can plan accordingly.
- Avoid opening new accounts with the sole intention of building your credit score. According to Experian, this isn’t a smart practice. Keep in mind: it’s not the number of cards you have, it’s how you use them, and you can have as good a score with 2 cards as with 5 or 10.
- Keep an eye on the total you’ve borrowed. It’s easier to run up debt when you use multiple cards. Make sure you use your cards wisely; opening a new card isn’t a solution to other financial problems and can lead to unmanageable debt down the road. If you have a new, low-APR card as a way to consolidate debt at a lower interest rate, use the card as you planned. Don’t use the extra credit to get deeper into debt.
- Consider timing before you apply for a new card. If you apply for several cards within a short time, it can negatively affect your credit score—and if you’re buying a car or a house soon, that could mean you wind up with less favorable loan terms.
Tips on managing multiple credit cards
Remember, having multiple credit cards doesn’t necessarily harm your credit score. In fact, your credit report benefits from using established credit cards at least every few months. Just keep a couple simple things in mind to make sure you’re getting the maximum benefit out of your cards:
- Paying on time is the most important thing. When you track multiple cards, online banking can be a helpful tool for managing multiple accounts. Setting automatic payment reminders can help you keep your due dates straight. If you’re a Bank of America card client, learn more about setting up Mobile and Online Banking alerts.
- Don’t use all of your available credit. Try to use no more than 30 percent.
- If you’re new to credit cards, make sure you can manage your first card. Wait for a set period, like 12 monthly billing cycles, before adding another one.
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