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How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?

Whether you’ve been collecting credit cards since you turned 18 or you’ve been using the same one your whole life, at some point you’ve probably wondered, How many credit cards should I have?

We’re going to come out and say it: We’re not big fans of the ol’ credit card. In fact, we’re not fans at all. And for good reason. Credit cards keep you stuck in the cycle of debt. In fact, the national credit card debt is $986 billion!1

Sure, credit cards may seem harmless at first. But after a few too many swipes and some missed payments, you could be in for a world of hurt—in the form of late fees and interest.

So, how many credit cards are too many? Does having multiple cards help or hurt your credit score? And do you really need a credit card in the first place? Let’s find out!

How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?
Does Having Multiple Credit Cards Help Your Credit?
Does Having Multiple Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit?
What Will Happen If You Open Too Many Credit Cards?
How Many Credit Cards Are Too Many?
Why You Don’t Need Any Credit Cards
Ditch Credit Card Stress

How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?

It depends on who you ask.

Industry “experts” will say you should have at least one credit card and the number you choose to own depends on how good you are at managing them. This is based on the idea that you need credit cards to build your credit and deal with emergencies—which isn’t true, by the way.

But since you’re asking us, the answer is zero. Yep, you shouldn’t have any credit cards. Wait! Before you bounce, hear us out. We’ll get into all the reasons why you don’t need even one card. But first, let’s talk about the downsides of applying for multiple credit cards.

Does Having Multiple Credit Cards Help Your Credit?

Your credit score is what lenders use to decide how much money to loan you, and it’s entirely based on how you’ve handled debt in the past. (That’s why we call it an “I love debt” score.)

Simply having a credit card (or a dozen) isn’t enough to earn a higher credit score. Credit reporting agencies take into consideration your credit utilization rate. This rate depends on how much of your total credit limit you’re actually using.

What credit companies want to see is a healthy relationship with credit (healthy for them, not you)—over a long period of time. Basically, you’ve got to prove you use your credit card, won’t abuse it, and will keep it around for a while. Tough crowd.

Here’s the tricky thing though: Credit reporting agencies don’t like it when you use too much of your credit. They’d rather you only borrow up to about 30% of your total credit limit at a time. Meanwhile, your credit card lender is tempting you to spend more with a higher credit limit, as well as to earn points and other rewards. (If it seems confusing, that’s because it is.)

People will often have multiple credit cards as a way to borrow more money without “overusing” their credit limit—in order to increase their credit score. The problem is that can get out of hand real fast. Multiple credit cards means multiple payments. And it only takes one missed payment to send you spiraling into credit card debt.

Does Having Multiple Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit?

When credit card companies check your credit score, it’s called a hard inquiry. Every time you sign up for a new credit card, this hard inquiry dings your score a little bit—which means your credit score will probably drop a few points. And if you’re signing up for card after card in a small period of time, your score will definitely take a hit.

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Like we said, you’ve got to actually use (and pay off) your balances for a while before credit card companies decide you “deserve” a boost in your score. Of course, the more credit cards you have, the harder it is to pay off multiple balances every month. Yeah, these lenders know exactly what they’re doing.

But this whole credit card game is just that—a game. And it’s not designed for you to win. It’s all about convincing you to chase after some random rating system the credit industry made up.

What Will Happen If You Open Too Many Credit Cards?

Remember: If you open too many credit cards in a short amount of time, you’ll set off some alarm bells at your credit card company. And your credit score will get a small beating from all those hard inquiries. New credit cards also lower the average age of your credit history, which usually knocks your score down as well.

That’s what happens when you play by the credit card companies’ rules. They know there are people who try to beat the system by racking up as many points, rewards and promotional offers as they can . . . just to turn around and close their cards. And as you can imagine, the bigwigs don’t want to be taken advantage of (after all, they’re the ones trying to take advantage of you).

But credit score aside, having multiple credit cards doesn’t do you any favors. Even if you’ve already got credit card debt and you’re trying to “manage” it with balance transfers, you’re only moving your debt around from card to card.

Plus, the more credit cards you have, the higher your chance of racking up a bigger balance and ending up in credit card debt. It’s like trying to keep a bunch of plates spinning—sooner or later, everything’s going to come crashing down.

How Many Credit Cards Are Too Many?

One. One credit card is too many. Why? Because relying on credit is never a good idea—even if it’s just one credit card. But trying to juggle multiple credit cards is just asking to go into debt.

Look, you might think you can outsmart the system and play the credit card game to your advantage. But it’s not worth the risk. Just ask the millions of people trapped under the weight of credit card debt right now.

Instead of borrowing more money and going through the stress of paying it back . . . why not just pay with cash (or at least use a debit card)? Trust us, buying stuff you don’t need with money you don’t have always ends poorly.

So, if you really want to know how many credit cards you should have, it’s zero. None. Zilch. Nada.

Why You Don’t Need Any Credit Cards

The average number of credit cards per person is three cards.2 But while it seems like most people have bought into the credit card lifestyle, you don’t have to join them. You can actually live (and thrive!) without a single credit card in your wallet.

We hate to break it to you, but the credit card industry doesn’t actually care if their cards put you in debt. In fact, they hope you’ll miss a few payments so your late fees and higher interest rate can make them that much richer. Remember, their goal is to make as much money off you as they can.

And over the years, the lies these companies have used to pad their pockets have taken root in our minds as truth. So, let’s go ahead and debunk some of the top lies the credit card industry uses to get you to take the bait.

You don’t need a credit card for emergencies.

According to Ramsey Solutions research, 24% of Americans said they’re relying on credit cards more than normal to pay their bills. And 14% of Americans said they would have to put a $400 emergency expense on a credit card and pay it off over time.3

People are turning to credit cards more and more as a “quick fix.” But that only makes the problem way worse. What they (and you) really need is an emergency fund.

Instead of going into debt to replace your furnace that went kaput, you can dip into your emergency fund and pay yourself back later. Then you don’t have to worry about money stress adding to an already stressful situation. Doesn’t that sound nice?

So, if you haven’t already, start saving a $1,000 emergency fund as soon as you can. Then you can build it up to cover 3–6 months of expenses once you’re debt-free. (This is all covered in our plan, the 7 Baby Steps.)

You don’t need to build your credit.

It’s true that credit cards and credit scores go together like peas and carrots. So, when you use a credit card “wisely” (at least by the credit industry’s standards), you improve your score over time. And when you use it poorly or get yourself into a lot of debt, your score goes down.

But have you actually stopped and thought about what a credit score is? The thing that most affects your credit score is your payment history (aka making your payments on time for a long period of time). A credit score (or FICO score) is just a record of how you’ve borrowed money. That’s it!

The truth is, you don’t need to have a credit card or build your credit score in order to rent a car, rent an apartment, or even buy a house. And when you live on less than you make and have an emergency fund in place, you don’t need to borrow money . . . which means you don’t need a credit score anyway.

The credit card companies don’t want you to know this because then you wouldn’t need them anymore. And guess what? You don’t!

Credit card rewards aren’t worth it.

Everyone loves free stuff. And the appeal of credit card rewards and store credit cards is that you can earn them with just a swipe. But here’s the problem: The temptation to overspend with a credit card is a real thing. The fact is, too many people give in to it . . . just for a few measly points they may not even use.

No matter how careful and detail-oriented you think you are, one missed payment on your quest to beat the system will have the system beating you. The points just aren’t worth it. Especially if you remember how much money you have to spend just to get a plane ticket or two. (You’re better off just buying it outright.)

Also, those precious points, airline miles, rewards and cash-back opportunities . . . they aren’t really free. You (and your neighbors) are paying for them with interest and fees! Yep—the credit card companies have rigged it so only they come out ahead.

Ditch Credit Card Stress

Plain and simple: Life is better without credit cards.

We live in a culture where you can get anything you want sent right to your door within a day or two. You can even have ice cream delivered if you don’t feel like leaving your house! It’s called instant gratification. And that kind of convenience isn’t cheap (just look at the fees on your last Postmates order).

And when you use a credit card to buy things you want right now (but can’t afford), you’re only doubling the cost. How? Credit cards set you up to overspend—because it doesn’t really feel like you’re spending money in the moment. And before you know it, you’re trapped in the cycle of debt.

What if you didn’t have to be a slave to your credit cards? What if you could stop chasing after points and credit scores like a hamster on a wheel? What if you could buy something and not have to worry about making payments on it for the next several months?

It’s time to leave the credit card stress behind and take control of your money once and for all. Don’t know where to start? Check out Financial Peace University (FPU). This nine-week money course will teach you how to get out of debt, save for emergencies, and set yourself up for financial success—no credit cards or credit score required.

Don’t Let Credit Cards Hold You Back

FPU gives you the proven plan to make progress toward your money goals without having to play the credit card game.

Learn More About FPU

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Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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