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If you already have a few credit cards and are interested in opening another, you may wonder if there's an ideal number of cards to have.
While there's no one-size-fits-all answer, Experian found that the average American has four. When managed properly, having multiple credit cards can allow savvy cardholders to maximize rewards and other benefits, such as interest-free financing and travel protections.
But you should always consider your current credit score and financial situation when deciding how many credit cards to have.
Below, CNBC Select spoke with credit experts about how to decide if opening another credit card is a good idea.
There may be no "perfect" number of credit cards to have, but there are some general guidelines to consider when deciding to open another card.
If you have poor or fair credit (scores below 670, according to Experian), you may struggle to be approved for credit cards and may have difficulty managing just one card. It may be in your best interest to hold off on opening a new card until your credit score improves.
On the other hand, if you have good or excellent credit (670 to 850, according to Experian), you have better qualification odds and could potentially be in a good position to open a new card. Good or excellent credit scores signals you have a handle on responsible credit behaviors and have managed your accounts properly, putting you in a more favorable position to take on another account.
If you're a credit card optimizer, you may wonder if there's an amount of credit cards that's too many.
"For someone who is responsible about using their cards and never carries a balance then no, there is no number of cards that's too many," credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, tells CNBC Select. On the other hand, "if you're using your cards as a supplement to your income and you're carrying balances each month, then one card may be too many."
As long as you're smart about using your credit card and practice responsible credit behaviors, such as making payments on time and in full, you can open as many credit cards as you want.
If you decide to open multiple credit cards, it's a good idea to consider how each card can help you save money on your spending. You can maximize benefits by selecting a mix of cards offering a range of advantages, such as bonus cash back on select purchases, introductory 0% APR cards, travel rewards and more.
"It's definitely nice to have multiple cards if they allow you to optimize rewards points," says Priya Malani, the founder and CEO of Stash Wealth.
For example, if you're someone who drives often and does meal prep, you may want to consider cards that offer increased rewards on gas and groceries. Our top picks are the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, with 5X points on gas purchases at the pump, and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). These cards can help you maximize rewards so you can save money in the long run.
Having more than one credit card has the potential to both boost and lower your credit score, but it all depends on how you manage your credit cards. Below, we describe how the main factors of your credit score may be affected by opening another credit card.
The most important factor of your credit score is payment history, making it key to always pay on time so you avoid late payment fees and penalties. Having more than one card may make it harder to manage various payment due dates.
"Call your credit card company and have them reset the billing cycles so that they are identical for all your cards," Malani recommends. "It's easier to remember one day than several, which means you're less likely to miss a payment."
Many card issuers also allow you to change your payment due date in-app or online. Another safety measure is to set up autopay, which takes away some of the stress of juggling multiple due dates.
Amounts owed (aka credit utilization rate)
The amount of money you owe across all of your credit cards — also known as your credit utilization rate — is another big factor of your credit score. Experts recommend keeping a utilization rate below 30% per card. To find your credit card utilization rate, simply add up your balances across all cards and divide by your total available credit limit.
Ulzheimer explains that having multiple credit cards can help expand your buying power and gives you a lower balance-to-limit ratio, which helps your credit score. However, "the primary con is you can get yourself into a ton of really expensive debt if you're not responsible."
Malani echoes that: "Realize that just because you have lots of credit available to you, that doesn't mean you should use it."
If you open an additional credit card, you'll have access to more credit, which in turn may allow you to more easily maintain a low utilization rate compared to having only one card. But for some people access to more credit can be a tempting excuse to overspend, which could result in a lower credit score.
Below, we provide an example of the potential positive effect having more than one credit card can have on your utilization rate: Millie has four credit cards and Carole has one card.
- Millie's total credit limit is $10,000: $4,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 over her 4 cards
- Carole's total credit limit is $2,000: on one card
If Millie and Carole both spend $1,000 each a month, their utilization rates would be:
- Millie: 10% ($1,000 / $10,000 = 0.1 X 100)
- Carole: 50% ($1,000 / $2,000 = 0.5 X 100)
This example shows that it's easier for Millie to maintain a lower utilization rate than Carole when spending the same amount of money across four credit cards. But Millie should be careful not to overspend with her higher credit limit.
Average length of credit history
When you open a new credit card, the average length of your credit history decreases. This typically only dings your score a few points and it bounces back in a few months, but if you open multiple cards within a short time period the points can add up.
For example, if you opened your first card in 2004 (15 years ago) and decide to open another card today, the average length of your credit history would decrease from 15 years to 7.5 years. That's a pretty big difference and may cause your credit score to decrease.
Number of credit inquiries
Each time you apply for a credit card — whether you're approved or denied — the credit card issuer pulls your credit report. These inquiries negatively affect your credit score, but your score will bounce back over time.
The more credit cards you apply for, the more inquiries appear on your credit report. Many card issuers provide pre-qualification forms that allow you to check your qualification odds without hurting your credit. But be aware that if you decide to submit a formal application, your credit will be pulled.
Opening multiple credit cards has its pros and cons, but if you're able to responsibly manage several credit card accounts, it can be beneficial to have more than one card.
"If you trust yourself to open up multiple cards and not max them out — go for it. If you think you'll be too tempted, avoid opening more than one card," Malani recommends.
At the end of the day, you'll want to review your finances and spending habits to decide if opening another card is the right choice. If you decide to open a new card, consider our top picks for rewards, cash-back, travel and balance transfer cards.
For rates and fees for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.