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From the Experts at Credit.com

How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?

by Gerri Detweiler

How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many

If you’ve ever ordered your free annual credit reports, you may have been surprised by some of the accounts listed there. You may find that credit card you opened to get a 10% discount when you bought a new set of tires. Or the account from the home improvement store taken out the year you remodeled the bathroom. And that first credit card you opened years ago and have barely used since. They may all be there.

The question is, at what point does having all those accounts listed on your credit reports hurt your credit scores? In other words, how many credit cards is too many?

You should be relieved to hear that, in most cases, those accounts aren’t hurting your credit scores – and are likely even helping them, provided you aren’t carrying a lot of debt. That’s because when it comes to your credit scores, most credit scoring models are primarily interested in how you manage your credit cards, rather than the number of accounts listed.

Of course, the best way to learn how your credit cards impact your credit score is to check one of your scores. You can get a free credit score updated monthly at Credit.com. You’ll also get a helpful breakdown of the factors impacting your score and an action plan for your credit.

In fact, those cards may have a positive impact on two areas of your credit scores; the age of your accounts and utilization. Here’s how those factors work:

Older Is Better

One of the factors affecting your credit scores is the age of your accounts. Here, most scoring models will look at factors such as the age of the oldest account, the average age of your accounts and how recently you’ve opened a new account. This is one case when older is definitely better. You can earn more points for a long-established credit history, and those accounts you opened many years ago can help, even if you aren’t using them anymore.

Beware, though: An account may be deleted from your credit reports after it has been closed or after a period of inactivity. Experian, for example, deletes closed accounts after 10 years. For that reason, you may want to consider using your oldest credit card from time to time to keep it active and open. That’s especially true if you don’t have a lot of older accounts and losing that reference would significantly shorten the age of your credit history.

Watch Those Balances

Most scoring models compare your available limits on your revolving accounts, such as credit cards, with the balances you carry on them. This is called “utilization.” If you are using more than roughly 10 – 25% of your available credit on each of your credit cards – or all of them in total – you may not score as well for this factor as you would if your balances were lower. If you don’t carry balances on those cards, then the available credit helps your utilization because it gives you more available credit.

At the same time, however, having a lot of accounts with balances may hurt your credit scores. So if you are juggling a lot of credit card debt, try to find a way to pay down your debt. If you do, you’ll save money on interest and you may see your credit scores go up as well.

You can find out how these factors are affecting your credit scores by getting a free credit score from Credit.com. In addition to your score, you’ll also see a grade for each of the major factors affecting your scores, including age of credit history and debt.

Again, there is no specific number of cards that is too many. If you focus on paying your cards on time and keeping balances low, you should be fine.


  • Retired

    I found in my experience that at least one credit agency did hold small credit level cards do have an impact on your credit score. I had a jc penny card from years ago. Because of lack of use they reduced the available credit to $174. That amount was then averaged with my other cards causing the average credit available to plummet. They then applied the total credit used against this averaged balance and determined I was carrying too large of a balance even though my balance was paid in full every month.
    So I had an available credit of under $10,000 even though most of my cards were well above that amount. I had between $4000-5000 in credit used monthly, causing me to be using 30-50% of the available average credit.
    I decided to revise my credit cards and keep only the cards that would offer me a credit line of $20,000. 3 cards agreed, discover, American express, and visa. Other cards refused,ie chase mc, SAMS discover, penny’s,Sears to name a few. Once this was corrected, my average credit utilized, the $4000-5000 now became 20-25%.
    So based on what I experienced, I would saw that the amount of credit on each card is very important. So the discount for taking the credit offered by a Sears, etc, can wind up costing you more than the discount you receive.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Thanks for sharing. The amount on the card can indeed influence your score. However, if you bring the ratio down by paying it off, the fact that it had been higher earlier won’t hurt your score. But if you are about to apply for a mortgage, etc., it could have a negative effect at exactly the wrong time.

  • Wes

    Credit cards are not for everyone obviously. If you are on top of your credit cards and have a good amount in your checking account to pay off all your bills in full. If you really can have a few grand in your checking account each month or more than I highly suggest you have all your credit cards and other bills that you know are going to be around the same every month on auto pay. Auto pay will make sure you pay on time in full or a set amount. That definitely isn’t for everyone but it’s easier and paying in full or more than the min. for years will drastically increase your credit rating. It’s probably not for most people, I have been doing it for a few years now and never have a problem. If i want to dispute a charge no problem. It’s all about moderation. Being pro active and thinking twice before you make a big purchase and watch your checking account once a week or more depending on how much activity you have going on. AGAIN, this is me and for most people they don’t like the idea. Also, once a year I suggest asking for a credit line increase on every card. Once a year is safe. Nothing more. Credit pulls (hard inquires) are not good. So keep that low.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Some good ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  • al-in-chgo

    I can’t help but notice that the title of this article poses a question that isn’t answered.

    • tom-in-detroit

      6 SIX tom-in-detroit


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  • Meet Our Expert

    gerri_detweiler GravatarGerri Detweiler is Credit.com's Director of Consumer Education. She focuses on helping people understand their credit and debt, and writes about those issues, as well as financial legislation, budgeting, debt recovery and savings strategies. She is also the co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights, and Reduce Stress: Real-Life Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis as well as host of TalkCreditRadio.com.
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