Credit cards are one of the most popular and widely-used financial tools around.
Not surprisingly, many people own more than one.
But is there an optimal number of credit cards to have?
The truth is there’s no definite answer to this question; rather, it depends entirely on your needs, budget, and lifestyle.
Given how much value and flexibility credit cards offer, having at least one is highly beneficial.
However, there are also strong arguments to be made in favour of owning multiple cards.
Benefits of Having Multiple Credit Cards
One credit card may be sufficient to meet most of your needs.
Still, you can realize extra personal and financial benefits by using several at a time.
Improve you credit score
Multiple credit cards can help boost your credit score by improving your credit utilization ratio.
Credit utilization is a financial metric that measures the outstanding balance on your credit accounts relative to your credit limit.
It’s a crucial component credit bureaus assess when they assign your credit score.
A high credit utilization ratio indicates that you’re using a large proportion of your available credit, which puts you at a higher risk of defaulting on your payments than someone with a low credit utilization ratio.
In general, a high ratio impairs your credit score, while a low ratio enhances it.
By opening additional credit card accounts, you instantly increase the amount of credit available at your disposal relative to your outstanding balance, thereby lowering your credit utilization ratio.
For example, suppose you currently own one credit card with a $3,500 balance and a $5,000 credit limit.
Your credit utilization, in this case, would be 70% ($3,500 / $5,000), which is quite high.
If you were to apply for a new card with a $5,000 credit limit, your credit utilization would drop to 35% ($3,500 / $10,000), resulting in a positive impact on your credit score.
If you plan on using multiple credit cards, strive to keep your average credit utilization at or near 30%.
The same holds for each card account individually.
Maximize your rewards points and perks
By owning multiple cards with varying rewards programs, you can optimize how you acquire and redeem points.
You can arrange your purchases to take advantage of the rewards program of a particular card.
For example, one card may offer exceptional points on gas, but not groceries, food delivery, or dining out.
Another card may offer generous cashback on every purchase, but no ability to redeem points for travel-oriented expenses.
With the right mix of credit cards, you can maximize your points, cashback, and miles with every purchase you make.
In addition, travel credit cards come with a plethora of perks that can save you money and enhance your trips.
These include concierge services, comprehensive travel insurance, airport lounge access, ticket discounts, hotel upgrades, and priority check-in and boarding.
Such benefits are typically absent from standard cards geared toward everyday shopping.
Have flexibility in an emergency
Keeping multiple credit cards on hand provides you with ample flexibility in the event you’re forced to pay for a significant, unexpected expense.
Depending on the size of your credit limit, you may be unable to charge it entirely to one card.
Furthermore, by splitting the cost between one or more cards, you minimize the use of your credit limit on each account, which keeps your credit utilization low.
Suppose you discover that your credit card has gone missing while vacationing overseas.
In that case, you can rely on your other cards as a backup while waiting for your replacement card to arrive.
Another scenario is your card issuer freezing your account due to suspected fraudulent activity (credit cards tend to be magnets for thieves).
With a spare card handy, you can continue making purchases and paying bills without a hitch until the issue is resolved.
Drawbacks of Having Multiple Cards
Despite the benefits of using multiple credit cards, there are also disadvantages you should be aware of.
Potential for debt problems
With abundant credit access at your disposal, you can easily get tempted to spend freely – and rack up a mountain of debt in the process.
As your outstanding debt rises, it can become increasingly difficult to pay off the balance each period.
Credit cards charge exceedingly high interest rates, which can cause your debt to grow exponentially.
In the worst-case scenario, you can default on your debt obligation and severely impair your credit standing, which will require considerable work and time to fix.
Difficult to manage
Juggling multiple cards entails staying on top of numerous payment due dates and being mindful of different credit limits for each card.
It can be tough to track and budget your spending if your purchases are scattered across many cards.
A few late payments resulting from you being overwhelmed can negatively impact your credit score.
Plus, you may incur late fees and be subject to penalty interest rates, as well.
In addition, if you’re utilizing multiple rewards programs, tracking your points and assessing the optimal way to redeem them can be mentally taxing.
It can be expensive
Depending on the types of cards you possess, annual card fees can become burdensome, especially if you don’t collect enough rewards points or cashback to justify the cost.
Other fees include late fees, foreign transaction fees, over-limit fees, and penalty interest rates.
Credit cards are convenient for making online and offline purchases, can rescue you in a financial emergency, offer superior fraud protection compared to debit cards, help you maintain a stellar credit score, and allow you to book a hotel stay for an upcoming vacation.
Given the vast array of benefits they provide, you should strongly consider owning one credit card at a minimum.
Using more than one card can be prudent, too.
Should you misplace or have your primary card stolen, an emergency backup card can be very helpful.
Some cards offer lucrative rewards programs that can be immensely valuable, as well, so long as they align with your spending habits and lifestyle.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it better to close a credit card or leave it open with a zero balance?
In general, leaving your credit card account with a zero balance is preferable to shutting it down. Closing your account will keep it from ageing, which is not ideal. An extensive credit history contributes to a healthy credit score.
Also, by keeping your account open, you have access to more credit, which keeps your credit utilization low. By abruptly shutting it down, your credit utilization will instantly spike, which may impair your credit score.
Ideally, you should preserve your credit card accounts for as long as it’s economically feasible for you to do so.
- How many credit cards is a good idea?
For most people, two or three credit cards will suffice. Given the benefits and flexibility credit cards provide, you should own at least one that meets most of your needs. Should it not offer you everything you require, you can acquire one or more.
Let’s say you can comfortably handle three credit cards. In that case, it’s wise to select them for a specific purpose – sort of like diversifying your investment portfolio. For example, you can designate one card for your everyday shopping to earn cashback, another for collecting travel points, and another to function as an emergency backup.