How Many Credit Cards is Too Many?
One, ten, twenty…how many credit cards is too many? And why would anyone have more than one credit card? This is a very common and valid question. There are also several answers, some of which are valid and some of which are completely invalid.
Let’s take care of the low hanging fruit first…why would anyone have more than one credit card? That’s simple. What if you want to buy something from a merchant that doesn’t take that particular type of card? I know it’s less common to find merchants that won’t take Amex or Discover cards, but there are still some out there.
The real question is around the reasoning for having multiple cards across the Visa, MasterCard, Discover and Amex networks. First off, many consumers believe you need to have a card at every retailer…a Gap card for your Gap shopping, a Macy’s card for your Macy’s shopping, etc etc. Clearly that not a good idea but not so much because of the number of cards you’ll have in your wallet. The reason you don’t want so many retail credit cards is because the rates on those types of cards are almost always in the mid 20s.
So what about the general use credit cards? In my mind a responsible credit user cannot have too many credit cards. If you don’t overcharge and you don’t carry balances then what’s the downside to having one card versus having ten cards?
Is “because of fraud” a valid answer? Not really. You have almost no exposure to fraud simply because you’ve got a lot of credit cards. The banks that issue them would suggest that THEY are the ones that have the exposure. You aren’t really liable for fraudulent charges above $50 thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, and most issuers won’t even ask for that amount. Further, if you leave the cards at home in a safe location then you’ve eliminated all risk of fraud.
The upside to having a lot of credit cards includes access to capital and credit score benefits. Credit scores measure the aggregate amount of available credit card limits relative to your aggregate balances on those same cards. The lower the ratio of balances to limits, the better for your credit scores. This is the infamous revolving utilization percentage.
So don’t listen to the plastic haters who try to vilify credit card issuers and people like me, who suggest that adults be treated like adults. How many open credit cards do I have…16. How much credit card debt am I in…$0. What’s my lowest FICO score…last time I checked it was 807.
Credit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. Follow him on Twitter here.