How Many Credit Cards Should I Have?

There’s no ideal number of credit cards to own, but having too few cards may actually lower your credit score.

One hand holding several credit cards
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With so many rewards credit cards to choose from, it can be hard to pick just one. The good thing is, you probably don’t have to. So, how many credit cards should you have? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think — it all depends on your financial situation. However, opting for multiple credit cards can have many benefits, as long as you use each card responsibly.  

The number and types of credit accounts you have are important

Three credit card bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — evaluate several factors to determine if you have a good credit score. These bureaus look for at least two open “lines of credit,” including credit cards, mortgages, student loans, car loans, and other types of loans, to ensure that you can handle multiple budgeting and payment schedules. 

Your credit score won’t be negatively affected by having too many lines of credit, but having too few lines of credit might be what’s keeping your credit score low. Equifax, for instance, recommends having at least two or three credit cards in addition to other types of credit, like a mortgage. And Experian found that the average American owns just under 4 credit cards.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

When you have a “thin” credit file, with few lines of credit and a short credit history, it makes it more difficult for lenders to know how you’ll manage credit, and you can therefore be seen as a risk. So, if you’re looking to bolster your credit file and increase the number of open credit accounts you have, opting for a new card could help - especially if you use the card frugally.  If you’re a responsible cardholder, adding a new addition to your wallet could prove beneficial to your credit score. 

What's the 30% credit rule?

Owning multiple credit cards can also boost your credit score by lowering your overall “credit utilization.” Credit utilization is how much you owe compared to your overall credit limit across accounts, affecting 30% of your credit score. As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended that your credit utilization remains below 30%. If you have few lines of credit, you may find it difficult to keep your utilization low. 

By opening a new credit card, you’ll be able to increase your overall credit limit — the amount you’ve spent in proportion to this amount will be lowered, as long as you don’t rack up a balance right away.

The 30% rule: how much of your total available credit you spend affects your credit score

While opening multiple credit cards can be beneficial to your credit score, it can negatively affect your score if you don’t use the cards responsibly. Having too many open lines of credit could be a bad thing for some cardholders. You may find it hard to juggle multiple payment due dates and rewards structures or be tempted to overspend, all of which are bad for your overall credit score. 

If you think you may be tempted to spend too much with a higher credit limit, then be wary of opening up another card. Payment history is the number one factor affecting your credit score, so if you fail to make even one payment on time, you’ll be hurting your score more than opening that extra card will help. 

Timing and preparation pay off 

If you do decide to take out a credit card, make sure you don’t take out too many within a short period of time, or you’ll negatively affect your credit score, especially in the short term. Instead, space out your applications by three to six months. And before you apply, make sure you know how to get approved for a credit card. Getting rejected will lower your credit score and you will need to wait several months before applying again. 

Is it bad to have a lot of credit cards with zero balance?

Having a credit card you use infrequently can be an easy way of increasing your total credit availability, as long as you avoid opening too many at once. However, make sure you remember to spend just enough on the card for it to remain active. Your credit card can be closed due to “inactivity,” which can negatively affect your credit score as it lowers your available credit.  

Benefits of multiple credit cards

By having multiple cards, whether it’s one of the best travel cards or best cash back cards, you can maximize your earnings where you spend the most. You’ll have access to a greater variety of rewards, including any welcome bonuses associated with a card, which can save you hundreds of dollars. Just be sure you’re able to afford any annual fees associated with each card, as well as can keep up with multiple payment due dates and redemption programs. 

Furthermore, if you have existing credit card debt, you may want to consider adding a balance transfer card to your credit card lineup. This will allow you to avoid expensive interest rates while paying off credit card debt.  

The verdict

How many credit cards should you have? There’s actually no set number. Having multiple cards has pros and cons, depending on how you use them as a cardholder. However, it can be a good way to help you tackle various financial goals, whether it’s earning as much cash back as possible or avoiding interest rates on existing balances.

Related Content

Erin Bendig
Personal Finance Writer

Erin pairs personal experience with research and is passionate about sharing personal finance advice with others. Previously, she was a freelancer focusing on the credit card side of finance, but has branched out since then to cover other aspects of personal finance. Erin is well-versed in traditional media with reporting, interviewing and research, as well as using graphic design and video and audio storytelling to share with her readers.