A common question for those concerned abut building a credit history or improving/maintaining their credit score is: “What is the right number of credit cards?” The underlying question, of course, is “How many can I have before it’s too many?”
Well, there’s good news for responsible credit card users: you should have as many as you want.
I said it, and I meant it. If you are the type of person who makes payments on time and generally keeps the balances on your cards low (or non-existent), you do not need to worry about the number of cards you have. (Unless of course you have a dangerous shopping habit, which is a whole ‘nother story.)
If you have trouble keeping up with your credit card payments or have cards near the credit limit, you might already have more cards than you should, regardless of how many you’re now carrying.
Credit Scores Measure Use of Credit, Not How Much Credit
Here’s the thing. Lenders want to know if you are able to handle credit. That is the whole point of a credit score — to try to use hard numbers to see who handles credit well, and who doesn’t.
If you’ve got one card with a credit line of $1000 and you’re constantly hovering at a $950 balance, you look risky, and your credit score will show it. On the other hand, if you’ve got 17 credit cards with total credit lines of $150,000 but you have low or no balances on those cards, it shows you can resist the temptation to use all that credit, which makes lenders believe you could handle even more credit.
A caveat here: At some point, having open credit lines of tens of thousands of dollars will make lenders less likely to give you large credit lines in the future. This means that if you open a new credit line and you have 20 credit cards already, you might be approved for the new card but with a smaller credit line than if you only had 3 other cards.
You Should Have What You Can Handle
So, don’t worry so much about the “right” number of credit cards. Instead, worry about how you’re using your cards, as well as your capacity to keep track of them all.
Many people with long credit histories will get their credit report and be surprised to see how many open lines of credit they have, some which they’d forgotten about and some which they thought were closed a long time ago. With identity theft a continual problem, you probably don’t want to have more credit lines than you can pay attention to on a monthly basis.
In conclusion, note that this is general advice. Everyone’s situation is different. Use your head. It will likely tell you if/when you’ve gone too far.