How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?

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Find yourself juggling multiple credit card accounts? You might be overdoing it—here's what you need to know.

How does the number of credit cards you have affect your credit rating?

When you get a credit card and buy things with it, those transactions get reported to all three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Paying your bills on time every month and keeping your balance low will help you establish good credit. But the opposite is also true.

“If you have an imbalance where you have too many cards, or too many high balances and not enough available credit, that will negatively impact your credit score,” says Leslie H. Tayne, a financial attorney and author of Life and Debt: A Fresh Approach Toward Achieving Financial Wellness.

And plenty of people get over their heads. The average American household with credit card debt has a balance of $6,741 carried over from month to month, NerdWallet reports.

“I would just caution people to get into it slowly,” says Holly Johnson, a credit card expert and co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love. “Gauge your comfort as you go along. Too many people get excited about rewards and overdo it.”

With an average APR of 17.5 percent, credit cards are a very bad short-term loan, Johnson notes. She also cautions people to keep an eye on their annual fees. Here’s when you should never use a credit card to make a payment.

“People get excited about big bonuses and travel rewards and sign up for a bunch of cards,” Johnson says. “All of a sudden they realize ‘oh, I’m paying $1,500 in credit card annual fees every year.'”

How many credit cards should you have?

As credit card experts, Johnson and her husband have about 20 credit cards right now.

“But I probably only use four of them on a regular basis,” she says. “That’s manageable for me because I can log in, track my spending, make my payments multiple times per month without being overwhelmed.”

Most people would never want to manage that kind of information, though, Johnson says. If you find that you’re having trouble keeping track of your payments, due dates, overspending because you have a lot of different lines of credit open, that’s a sign you have too many credit cards.

So what’s the right number of cards to have to build your credit and earn some perks while not going into debt? Johnson says it comes down to personal preference—with some caveats.

“In my opinion, you should use credit cards to your advantage for consumer protection like travel insurance or auto rental coverage,” Johnson says. “Then use them to earn rewards, but only when you can pay your balances each month.” Find out some things you should always buy with a credit card.

Tayne notes that she’s had clients who have had more than 27 credit cards. She recommends that people start out with two to four personal cards and cap the number at six.

“So maybe you have a Mastercard or Visa, and an American Express card,” Tayne says. “And maybe one store card that you frequent on a regular basis that you pay off.” Here’s why credit cards are all the same size.

How many store credit cards should you open?

Johnson isn’t a big store credit card user. She has one at a Kohl’s because she gets 30 percent off her purchases, and she’s had the card forever.

“I don’t think that they’re bad necessarily,” Johnson says. “You can get more rewards than you can with a cashback or general rewards credit card.”

That said, some people get sucked into the promise of savings, which probably won’t benefit you in the long run. Store cards generally carry the highest amounts of interest, Tayne says.

“Some people feel the need to get a card at every store they go into because they offer discounts,” Tayne says. “That doesn’t necessarily help you. What will help you is keeping a nice balance.” Now that you know how many credit cards you should have, you might want to learn the things credit card companies know about you.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.