Originally posted onto WalletPath.com 5/12/16.
When it comes to your credit score, bigger, and more, is better. With the exception of how much debt you have (obviously you want that as small as possible if not gone completely), you always want bigger with your credit line. If you have more credit cards, then your credit limit rises, which means you can have that much more available credit to your name. Although more credit cards is a good thing, not being able to manage them wisely can end up being pretty devastating to your score. With all these pros and cons, how can you decide what the magic number of open and running credit cards is right for you and your situation?
Below are some factors to consider in deciding just how many active credit cards is right for you to have in your wallet at once.
Why would I want more available credit?
Credit lenders check to see that you are wise with the amount of credit you already have available and at your disposal, and you want them to see you as responsible as possible. A single credit card, for example, may give you $1000 in available credit, and if you are wise in your credit usage, you keep your usage to below 50%. That means that you only have about $500 dollars of for-the-most-part guilt free usable credit that won’t be too heavily scrutinized by credit lenders.
Now $500 dollars is not so bad in terms of guilt free credit for when you are first starting out, but as time goes by, the expenses that need to be immediately covered get taller and taller, and you may want to stretch out and use the other $500 dollars of available credit that you otherwise leave ignored and unused. Although it may seem that you are just using what it rightfully yours, if you spent $999 of an available $1000 credit limit, guess what that tells your lenders? “I like to spend as much money that isn’t mine as possible!”
Jokes aside, you don’t want to look like you abuse your credit. To avoid going over that sweet spot of 30% to no more than 50% of your credit, expand how much available credit you can use. You can do this by either appealing for a larger credit limit on you already existing credit card, or you can apply for more credit cards. For example, your already standing $1000 limit gets raised to $1500, and you add two more credit cards each offering a $500 limit, and you have $700 in expenses due. Your debt to credit ratio went from 70% of a $1000 limit, to 28% of $2500. By expanding how much credit is available to you, you dropped your ratio all the way from being in the danger zone (70%) safely into the green sweet spot (28%). Lots of numbers flying at you, we know. Just bear with us.
Your available credit works as a pool that you can constantly add to and grow, and if can realistically keep track of every available card that you add you your pool and keep accounts in balance and in check, then more cards can be a great help to you. However, the more cards you add, the more difficulty it becomes in keeping everything straight.
No one card is accepted everywhere.
Keeping one single card is much easier to manage than five or six, to be sure. One single bill, one single payment, and one set of rewards to monitor and keep track of. The disadvantage of having a single card is that your limit can only get so high, and your credit service may not be accepted everywhere. Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover are some of the major services, and as we’re sure you can recall from time spent out and about shopping for goods, not every location accepts the same cards.
Sadly there is no universal currency out there that is accepted by all vendors with absolutely no fees (other than cold hard cash, but who uses coins and paper anymore??), but when you are out to dinner and are rocking a cashless wallet with only an Amex, and they only accept Visa, what are you going to do? We’ve all had this nightmare at one point in time, and the only way to avoid this scenario, besides asking right up front what cards they accept every time you go outside, is to get the most common credit card services.
Don’t open cards just for the rewards.
A misconception that may be reached here is that you can just keep opening accounts and rack up a whopping pool of available credit that you can dip into at any time the mood strikes you. If this sounds like a great way to live to you, know that every time you open an account, a lender checks your credit, which dings your score. To that end, if your account goes unused for too long, or is deemed to be too risky to keep open by the lender, your account will be closed which also dings your score. So before you think about applying for 40 or so new credit cards so that you can soak up all the rewards, think about your already fragile and delicate credit score and the stress that it will endure as you go about opening new accounts and closing old ones.
So how do I know how many cards I should have?
The bottom line is that there really isn’t a set number of cards that blankets everybody’s financial and credit situations. Some individuals can keep track of an endless list of pending payments and billings, and others can’t even keep track of the one credit card they already do own, and even though it is set to “Automatic Bill Pay” online, it still causes them stress. It depends on how well you can keep track of your expenses and bills.
Opening and having access to more credit cards, such as two or three, or even as high as six or seven can have its perks, but if you cannot handle the mental strain that ensues to keep track and balance all of your accounts and not miss or be late for a single payment, then keeping your card count down may be best for you. Same goes for having less cards. One single bill and one set of rewards to keep track of can be freeing and stress-less, but it does limit where you can use your card and what kind of rewards you can have at your disposal.
How many can you manage best?
These factors in mind, consider if you can handle having two to three credit cards. Having different cards opens the door to varying rewards, raises your usable credit limit and also protects you from the embarrassing but at some point inevitable “I’m sorry ma’am, but we don’t accept that kind of card here”. Only acquire what you can realistically handle, but if you do decide to get more cards, learning how to balance your accounts and remain on top of the ball is a useful skill to obtain.
So as of right now, how many cards and accounts do you think you can honestly manage and manage well?