how many credit cardsMaybe your wallet is overflowing with credit cards or maybe you carry a sleek billfold of 1 or 2. Which is the better approach, an abundance or 1 or 2 well-used credit cards? To answer it simply, it all depends on you and your spending habits. Provided that you keep up with your credit card payments, having several credit cards is no problem. Maintaining multiple open lines of credit can even help you keep your credit utilization ratio low, which boosts your credit scores.

We generally recommend 2 to 4 credit cards for average consumers, but knowing how many credit cards you should have comes down to understanding your financial needs. Do you need access to a lot of credit to pay for your expenses? Will having many credit cards make it hard for you to control your spending and keep track of due dates? Do you like the idea of using different credit cards on different purchases to maximize the rewards for your spending? While you ponder those questions, let’s take a look at how many credit cards other Americans use. It may give helpful context.

How many credit cards do U.S. cardholders have?

Generation: Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers Traditionalists All Americans
Average number of credit cards: 2.4 4.5 3.5 3.1 3.4

The average U.S. cardholder has 3.4 credit cards (according to Gallup 2015 data), but you’ll notice from the table above that the number of cards appears to change by generation. This is likely because the number of credit cards you want will vary based on what stage of life you are in. For younger cardholders building up their credit history, 2 to 3 credit cards may suffice. For example, the millennials polled (who would have been 18 to 33 in 2015) hold an average of 2.4 cards per cardholder.

As people reach the stage in their lives where they have children and big purchases like cars and houses, the number of credit cards generally peaks. For that reason, it makes sense to see that the Gen X cardholders (roughly 35 to 55 years old at the time of the survey) averaged 4.5 credit cards. The need for many credit cards is likely to go down as one moves past that peak expenditure phase (with baby boomers and traditionalists at 3.5 and 3.1 average cards per cardholder, respectively). Picture it as a bell curve.

What about people with high credit scores?

While knowing a bit about the average American helps set a standard, you probably don’t aim to be average yourself. To that end, another helpful batch of data comes from a 2016 FICO study of those who have achieved high credit scores. This study compared the number of credit cards, revolving credit utilization and more for older and younger age groups. The reason for this comparison was that older consumers tend to have higher credit scores, while younger tend to have lower. As such, FICO made this comparison to show the extremes of the credit ranges.

Now, it’s worth noting that the FICO profiles described are median, rather than mean, averages. For that reason, you’ll notice that you can’t directly compare the Gallup and FICO data. For example, the median U.S. cardholder in the FICO analysis has 6 revolving trades. Since credit cards are the main source of revolving credit, we can assume that number is either mostly or entirely representative of how many credit cards the median U.S. cardholder has. Yet 6 cards is far higher than the average American may own and, since the median profile represents someone who is 49 years old, it’s more reflective of the Gen X cardholder.

Median U.S. FICO score profiles: Median U.S. cardholder 750-799 (older group) 750-799 (younger group) 800-850 (older group) 800-850 (younger group)
Number of revolving trades: 6 8 4 10 9
Revolving credit utilization: 15% 10% 6% 4% 5%
Average months on file for a revolving trade line: 108 111 44 140 105
Percent never delinquent on payments: 57% 72% 93% 95% 96%
Months since last delinquency: 17 38 40 46 47
Months since last trade line opened: 14 12 10 15 12

What we can learn

All of these profiles are good role models. Even the median American profile has a FICO score of 700. That score is generally considered good, and good to excellent credit can usually net you some tremendous credit cards (though there are nice credit card options for every credit score). However, as you compare the median American with the profiles in the higher credit ranges, you’ll notice trends that demonstrate how people earn high credit scores. Those with high credit scores have low credit utilization, pay on time and maintain credit accounts for a long time. This is consistent with our usual advice for improving your credit scores.

In their number of revolving trades, you’ll notice that most of the profiles with high credit scores have more revolving trades (credit cards) than the median American, but the younger 750-799 group. That seems to indicate that, while having a higher credit score is associated with more credit cards, it isn’t strictly necessary. More likely, multiple credit cards are a means to lower credit utilization. While having several lines of credit and using a small portion of each is a good way to maintain a low utilization ratio, another way to do so is to ask for a credit limit increase on existing accounts.

Our recommendations:

Average consumer — 2 to 4 cards

If you aren’t new to managing credit, somewhere between 2 and 4 credit cards is likely a good number. There are many reasons you’ll probably want more than one credit card. To start, there’s security. Most credit cards feature $0 liability if they are lost or stolen. That makes them a low-risk means of payment for your day to day purchases. That said, not all credit card networks are accepted by all vendors. For that reason, to guarantee you can make your purchases by credit card, you may want at least 2 credit cards in your wallet — each from a different network.

In addition to the cards in your wallet, it’s advisable to have at least one credit card you leave at home. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you still have a source of credit to turn to if something happens to your wallet. We also recommend dedicating a credit card to online shopping. Since cybersecurity is often a vulnerability, having a card for your online purchases allows you to limit your risk. This allows you to monitor the account and freeze or lock the line of credit if you see fraudulent spending without blocking the credit cards you use for your regular spending.

If you plan to travel outside the U.S., you’ll also want a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Beyond security and avoiding fees, you may desire a variety of options so that you can earn rewards on different categories. While you can certainly have individual cards that serve more than one of the aforementioned purposes, it’s also easy to see how it makes sense to accumulate several cards.

The savvy cardholder or those with specific needs — 5+ 

If you want to get the most value out of your spending, you’ll want to have a variety of credit cards that earn high rewards rates on different kinds of purchases. Once you’re comfortable with managing multiple credit accounts, you open up the opportunity to strategize and earn different types of rewards as well as huge intro bonuses. Some credit cards even provide premium perks like airport lounge access. For it to really be worthwhile, however, carefully choosing between your cards for select purchases has to be something you enjoy doing. It takes time and awareness and, if you’d rather just use a standard cash back card to earn money back on all your purchases, you may be better off keeping your cards to a minimum.

Another reason for having 5 or more credit cards is if your run a business. Whether you want a business credit card for your own small business or just want a separate card to make it easier to isolate charges you intend to invoice for later, it can help to keep your personal and work costs separate.

Last but not least, you may need to use a lot of credit. Perhaps you are in that stage of life where kids, housing, a wedding, cars or other expenses require a lot of spending. Since you’ll need to keep your credit utilization ratio low in order to get a great credit score, it may be better to boost your available credit to keep your used percentage low.

Building or rebuilding credit — 1 to 3 cards

If you are just starting to build credit, 1 credit card may be the best number for you. Or, if you’ve made mistakes managing credit in the past and need to rebuild, you may want to keep your number around 1 to 3. That’s because it’s easier to keep track of your spending and payment due dates when you have less accounts to manage.

We suggest 1 to 3 because you may not be able to go straight down to 1 credit card if you have other credit cards already and have built up a balance. Rather than cancelling your credit cards, which may make your credit utilization ratio worse and hurt your credit scores, you may be able to perform a balance transfer. We feature a variety of cards that offer low intro balance transfer APR, which can vastly reduce the interest you pay. As your credit builds or gets back on track, you may want to shift toward our recommendations for average consumers.

Now that you have a better idea of how many credit cards you should have in your wallet, you may find you’re ready for another. For recommendations in a variety of categories, check out our featured credit cards. To learn more about all things credit-card related, read our credit cards blog.