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Ever since I began writing about credit cards three years ago, the number of credit cards in my wallet has steadily increased. I recently hit double digits when I opened my tenth credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. While I'm nowhere near extreme credit card optimizers who have over 30 credit cards, 10 cards is still well above the national average of four.
There's no perfect answer to how many credit cards should you have, as long as you're responsible about paying off your balance on time and in full each month. I opt to open more credit cards when I see a need — that may be financing upcoming purchases, booking travel at a discount or taking advantage of a generous welcome bonus.
There are numerous ways to go about choosing the best credit card and below, I detail my process for choosing and managing multiple credit cards.
There's no single best time to open a credit card, but there are various life events and expenses that pop up that can be good opportunities to apply for new one. I consider various factors before I hit the 'apply now' button on any credit card application.
Here are some questions I ask myself:
- Why do I want to open a credit card? I've opened new cards because I wanted to finance large purchases, earn a generous welcome bonus for a future trip and earn top-notch rewards.
- What new perks will this card offer? Some cards offer annual credits, trip protection and high rewards rates that make them beneficial. (More on these benefits later.)
- Is the annual fee worthwhile? Some credit cards have annual fees upwards of $550 and spending that much on a card doesn't make sense for everyone. Most of my cards have no annual fee or fees under $100, but there are situations where I calculated a high annual fee to be worthwhile. If you find an annual fee to be worthwhile initially, it's OK to reevaluate the cost down the line if something changes, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve® increasing its annual fee to $550.
Before you apply for a credit card, consider perks that add value. That may be high rewards rates, no interest periods or unique statement credits. When I search for cards, I always look for new benefits that aren't offered by my current roster of cards.
Better rewards rates
Over the past year, my fixed expenses have changed which caused an increase in the amount I spend on groceries, gas and transit each month. This made me reconsider the cards I use for those expenses.
Previously, I used the American Express® Gold Card for those expenses, since it earns 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). But I decided to move those expenses to the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which offers a higher rewards rate of 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including parking, tolls, trains).
Here's how much more I earn in rewards from transferring those expenses to my Blue Cash Preferred Card, considering these spending habits:
- Groceries: $400 per month, $4,800 annually
- Gas: $50 per month, $600 annually
- Transit (parking, tolls, trains): $225 per month, $2,700 annually
By making this switch, I earn approximately $162 more in rewards each year, which is enough to cover the Blue Cash Preferred card's $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 and my gas expenses for one month (see rates and fees).
0% interest periods
A 0% APR credit card can provide up to 21 months of interest-free financing on new purchases, balance transfers or both. This allows you to get out of debt or finance new purchases over time without incurring interest charges.
Most cards limit 0% APR offers to when you open the card, but some cards may provide occasional promotions. For example, I received a 0% APR for seven months on one of my cards four years after opening it. This interest-free period helped me pay for a class over time.
If you want to earn increased rewards during your first few months from account opening, a card offering a generous welcome bonus can be a great asset. I opened the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and received a welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This bonus is worth up to $750 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, thanks to points receiving 50% more value.
While a welcome bonus is a great way to maximize rewards, you shouldn't open a credit card solely based on bonus. If you decide a new card is worthwhile, consider opening a card with a welcome bonus when you have large expenses to charge to the card. You don't want to spend over budget just to get the bonus.
Travel rewards cards often provide annual statement credits that help you save on airline fees, hotels, car rentals, food and more. Cards with these perks often come with annual fees, but they can be offset in part if you take full advantage of the statement credits.
I have two cards that offer annual credits: the Sapphire Reserve and Amex Gold card. The Sapphire Reserve offers an annual $300 travel credit, which can be used on hotel bookings, airfare, transit and more, plus a credit toward a Global Entry ($100) or TSA PreCheck application fee ($85) every four years.
The Amex Gold offers a $120 dining credit ($10 per month) for food at eligible restaurants, like Shake Shack and The Cheesecake Factory.
I make sure to use the full value of the credits to offset the cost of each card — even if that means stopping by Shake Shack to grab coffee for 'free.'
Rewards cards often come with various travel benefits that include car rental insurance, baggage delay insurance, airport lounge access and exclusive offers at hotels. These perks can provide peace of mind when you travel and save you money.
I saved over $350 on vacation last year by using my Amex Gold card's travel perks, which include special perks at The Hotel Collection. I booked my hotel via American Express Travel and chose a resort in The Hotel Collection, which provided me with complimentary daily breakfast for two (up to $25 per person) and a $100 resort credit.
Review upcoming life decisions
A new credit application can temporarily ding your credit score about five points. If you're planning on applying for a mortgage or auto loan, it may be in your best interest to hold off on new credit card applications until after those actions are complete. Your credit score typically bounces back in a few months, so if an auto loan or mortgage is a ways off, it can be okay to apply for a credit card now.
Check your credit score
Once I decide that opening a new credit card is in my best interest, I check my credit score. There are dozens of free credit score resources available to help you pinpoint what credit range you fall into, including CreditWise from Capital One and Experian Boost™. I use both services to check my credit score weekly since both provide different types of credit scores (VantageScore and FICO score, respectively).
Since lenders use FICO scores in 90% of lending decisions, I opt for checking my Experian FICO score prior to credit card applications. The score you receive can influence what cards you may qualify for. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® requires excellent credit — though that doesn't mean you're guaranteed approval if you have excellent credit or that you'll be declined with good credit.
When I checked my score before applying, I had a 759 credit score, which is in line with the very good credit score range (740 to 799) according to Experian. (Find out what is a good credit score.) I was approved for the Sapphire Reserve with a score that falls below the excellent credit range.
Check your qualification odds
Another step I sometimes take is filling out prequalification forms, which performs a soft pull of your credit without hurting your score. Prequalification helps you gauge which cards you have a good chance at qualifying for, though it's not a surefire sign you'll be approved.
When I filled out Chase's prequalification form, no credit card offers came up, but that's not the end of the line — I still applied for the Sapphire Reserve and got approved. (Note that no two applications are the same, and you may or may not be approved for cards, regardless of prequalification forms.)
Remove any credit freezes
After I settle on a credit card, I unfreeze my credit reports since I instituted credit freezes with all three bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) after the Equifax hack in 2017. You can't apply for new credit when there's a credit freeze in place, so make sure you temporarily lift it before you submit an application.
Wait an hour after the lift is requested to apply. According to the FTC, if you unfreeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must lift it within one hour. I always wait an hour and have never run into an issue.
Be proactive: Freeze your credit reports now
Ten credit cards is a lot to manage. I have 10 different bills with various due dates, balances, minimum payments and APRs. Here's how I manage all these terms and ensure I submit payments on time without driving myself crazy.
Set up autopay as a safety net
While autopay is an option that can streamline bill payments, I don't rely on it. I have it set up for two of my 10 cards, but only as a safety net. I prefer to make credit card bill payments manually.
I have 10 recurring reminders on my phone for when bills are due each month. I list the abbreviated card name and the due date. Once I pay off my bill, I check off the payment reminder. I also set payment reminders with my card issuer. These alert me when my statement is ready and again when my bill is due in 10 days.
Change bill due dates
Many credit cards allow you to change your due date, and I take advantage of this feature. You can adjust the due dates to when you get paid to make things easier. Personally, I have due dates divided into the beginning, middle and end of the month.
I try to make the due dates the same day for all credit cards from the same issuer. For example, I have two Amex cards and made the due dates on the same day. Then I can just go in and pay both bills at the same time every month.
Always pay on time and in full
Payment history is the most important factor of your credit score, which makes it key to always pay at least your minimum payment on time. I always pay off my credit cards in full — except on a 0% APR card that I'm using to finance a purchase. But even then, I have a plan on what I need to pay each month to ensure I have no balance when the interest-free period ends.
This helps me maintain good payment history and a low utilization rate (which is the total amount of credit you're using compared to your total credit limit).
For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.