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How Many Credit Cards Should You Have To Build Credit?

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Jessica Merritt
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Jessica Merritt

Editor & Content Contributor

101 Published Articles 529 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 4U.S. States Visited: 23

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

38 Published Articles 3339 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Having at least 1 credit card can help you build credit as long as you make on-time payments and keep a low credit utilization ratio. However, holding additional credit cards can help you further raise your credit score as they expand your credit lines and give you more opportunities to demonstrate responsible credit use.

But juggling multiple credit cards can also present challenges. Having more than 1 credit card can give you more opportunities to miss payments or run up large credit card balances, which can hurt your credit. You should also expect a small, temporary ding to your credit score when you apply for new credit cards. 

In general, having a mix of credit types and a few credit cards can help improve your credit score as long as you use them responsibly. Let’s look at how many credit cards you should have to improve your credit score. 

How Many Credit Cards You Need To Improve Your Credit Score

If you don’t have any credit cards, you can establish your credit and improve your credit score by holding just a single credit card. With a credit card, you can work on making on-time payments to establish a positive credit history. 

But having 2 or 3 credit cards can be advantageous to your credit score as long as you use them responsibly. A secured card can help you if you’re just getting started building (or rebuilding) your credit, or a 0% APR or balance transfer card can help you pay off balances interest-free so you lower your credit utilization.

Ultimately, the number of credit cards you have should primarily depend on your ability to manage them responsibly. If you can safely handle multiple cards, then having a few credit cards can help you maintain and grow your credit score.

Hot Tip:

You just need 1 credit card to build your credit, but more cards could help you grow your credit score and expand your financial horizons.

How Adding a Credit Card Can Improve Your Credit Score

Adding a new credit card to your wallet can positively and negatively affect your credit score, depending on how you manage the new account. 

With a new credit card — especially your first — you get the opportunity to demonstrate responsible credit use by paying your credit card bill on time and keeping your balances low. A solid history of on-time credit card payments is a great way to build or improve your credit.

Your first credit card also helps you diversify your credit mix, adding a new type of credit account to your credit report. Although credit mix is a small factor relative to major credit score factors, including payment history and credit utilization, it can help push your credit score higher.

A positive effect of adding another credit card is that it can increase your overall available credit limit, which can lower your credit utilization ratio if you’re not carrying high balances. A lower credit utilization ratio can help improve your credit score.

If you’re considering how many credit cards you should have, here are a few factors to consider:

  • Credit Goals: If you’re focused on building credit or improving your credit score, having at least 1 credit card can be helpful. However, you may consider having multiple cards if you want to maximize rewards, take advantage of specific benefits, and build your credit further.
  • Credit Utilization: Your credit utilization ratio is important in determining your credit score. Having multiple credit cards can help lower your credit utilization ratio as long as you’re not carrying high balances on multiple cards.
  • Financial Management: If you can manage multiple credit cards responsibly and avoid overspending, having multiple cards can be beneficial. However, if you struggle to manage your finances or have a history of overspending, it may be better to stick with 1 credit card.

Is It Bad To Have a Lot of Credit Cards With Zero Balance?

Having multiple credit cards with zero balances can help your credit since one of the factors that determines your credit score is your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your available credit that you’re currently using.

If you have several credit cards with zero balance, your total available credit is higher, and your credit utilization ratio will be lower. That can have a positive impact on your credit score. 

Hot Tip:

It’s a myth that you must carry a credit card balance to build credit. The best way to use credit cards is to pay them off monthly so you never have to pay interest charges.

Advantages of Having Multiple Credit Cards

Having more than 1 credit card can help your credit score as long as you use them responsibly. Multiple credit cards can positively impact your credit score by increasing your overall available credit. When you have higher available credit, that can lower your credit utilization ratio if you’re not carrying high balances. A lower credit utilization ratio can help improve your credit score.

Using multiple credit cards can also give you the flexibility to keep older credit card accounts open, which maintains your credit history. The longer your credit history, the better. Keeping old credit card accounts open is good for your credit score, even if you don’t regularly use your old card(s). For example, if your oldest credit card account doesn’t offer great rewards or benefits you could apply for a better card that you use for everyday spending and keep the old account open to maintain your credit history.

The number of credit cards you have doesn’t influence your credit score as much as how you use them. No matter how many credit cards you have, building or improving your credit with credit cards boils down to using credit cards responsibly: that means paying your balances on time and in full each month, avoiding carrying high balances, and keeping your credit utilization low. 

Bottom Line:

Whether you have 1 card or a dozen, making on-time payments and keeping balances in check will help you build credit.

Disadvantages of Having Multiple Credit Cards

Carrying multiple credit cards can hurt your credit if you can’t manage all accounts responsibly. You should only apply for credit cards that you need and can manage responsibly, making sure to pay your balances in full and on time each month.

You can benefit from carrying more than 1 credit card, but there are drawbacks to consider:

  • Potential for Overspending: If you have multiple credit cards, it can be tempting to overspend or carry high balances, which can hurt your credit score and lead to debt.
  • Increased Fees: You may have to pay multiple annual fees.
  • Increased Risk of Fraud: More credit cards means more opportunities for credit card fraud, especially if you don’t monitor your accounts closely.
  • More Difficult to Manage: You may find it difficult to keep track of payment due dates and manage multiple accounts.
  • High Credit Utilization: Having high balances on multiple credit cards can increase your credit utilization ratio, which can hurt your credit score. This is because lenders may view you as a riskier borrower if you use a large portion of your available credit.
  • Missed Payments: If you’re struggling to keep track of multiple credit card payment due dates and miss payments or make late payments, it can negatively impact your credit score. And if you slip up on multiple credit card accounts, your credit will take an even greater hit.
  • Too Many New Accounts: Opening too many new credit cards quickly can lower your credit score due to the hard inquiries generated when a lender checks your credit report. Additionally, having too many new accounts can make you appear risky to lenders and can lower the average age of your credit accounts.
Hot Tip:

Juggling balances on multiple credit cards? See our guide on which credit card debts to pay off first.

Applying for New Credit Cards

Man and woman with laptop on desk
Space out your credit card applications so you don’t rack up too many hard credit inquiries. Image Credit: JustLife via Adobe Stock

Applying for Multiple Credit Cards at Once

You can apply for multiple credit cards simultaneously, but it’s generally not recommended.

When you apply for a credit card, the lender will typically check your credit report, which generates a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries can hurt your credit score, especially if you apply for multiple credit cards quickly.

If you’re approved for multiple credit cards and start using them all at once, it can increase your risk of getting into debt and potentially hurt your credit score if you can’t make payments.

It’s generally a good idea to apply for credit cards strategically and only apply for cards that you need and can manage well. If you’re interested in applying for multiple credit cards, it’s a good idea to space out your applications over time and to make sure to only apply for cards that you have a good chance of being approved for based on your credit history and income. 

Additionally, you should consider the potential impact on your credit score and debt level before applying for new credit.

Hot Tip:

Credit card companies typically have rules — sometimes unspoken — for how many cards you can apply for. Learn more in our guide to applying for credit cards.

Holding Multiple Credit Cards From the Same Bank or Issuer

Multiple credit cards from the same bank or issuer can have advantages and disadvantages, depending on your situation and needs.

If you’re just dealing with 1 bank, managing your accounts and making payments is easier because you can access multiple accounts from the same online portal or mobile app. Plus, you may be able to accumulate the same rewards currency on multiple credit cards, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards

Final Thoughts

Quality matters more than quantity when using credit cards to build your credit history.

You can build credit with just 1 credit card, though using multiple credit cards could give you more opportunities to demonstrate on-time payments and attain a lower credit utilization ratio which can help your credit score increase. Yet having multiple credit cards offers more opportunities to make mistakes with late payments and high revolving balances.

In the end, the best number of credit cards for building credit is the number of cards you can manage responsibly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does having 2 credit cards build credit faster?

Having 2 credit cards can help build credit faster if managed responsibly. More than 1 account can increase your available credit, which can lower your credit utilization ratio if you don’t carry high balances. Also, having multiple accounts with a positive payment history can help establish a strong credit history. However, it’s important to manage the accounts responsibly and avoid overspending or carrying high balances.

How much will a credit card raise my score?

It’s difficult to predict how much a credit card will raise your credit score because it depends on many factors, including your payment history, credit utilization ratio, length of credit history, and types of credit accounts. Generally, having a credit card can help build credit if used responsibly, which means you need to make on-time payments and keep your balances low. However, the impact on your credit score will depend on your circumstances and credit history.

What are the fastest ways to build credit?

Building credit is a gradual process, but you can help improve your score faster by making on-time payments, keeping your balances low, and diversifying your credit mix.

Is 4 credit cards too many?

Carrying 4 credit cards isn’t too many unless you can’t manage all of them responsibly. It can be helpful to use multiple credit cards if you can make your payments on time.

Jessica Merritt's image

About Jessica Merritt

A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little cash as possible.

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