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Account management

A second credit card: When it’s wise to get one, when it’s not

It can help improve your credit score, be a backup for emergencies


Adding another credit card to your wallet can be an asset, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s everything you need to know.

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Is it time for a second credit card?

Maybe you’re in your early 20s, a first-time cardholder or have a low-limit card. But you’ve managed your credit card responsibly so far, paying it in full and on time every month, and now you want more charging power.

Or maybe you’ve maxed out a card with a high APR and interest charges are piling up. Transferring your debt to a 0% balance transfer card will get your financial situation back on track.

In any case, the prospect of getting a second card sounds promising. More cards, more options, right?

Not so fast, experts say. While a second card can help improve your credit score, act as a backup in case of an emergency, or help you diversify your credit pool, it isn’t right for everyone.

Here are the situations in which you should, and should not, get a second credit card.

See related: Best credit cards for millennials

Reasons you should get a second credit card

It might be a good time to get a second credit card if you’re looking to:

  • Improve your credit score. “There is a benefit to having more cards,” said Tamar Asken, a certified financial planner and real estate agent in Los Angeles. Having two or three cards is one kind of proof that you can manage debt and credit and maturely meet obligations, she said. Plus, it will increase the total credit available to you, which, if you don’t use most of it, raises that all-important FICO score.
  • Have a backup in case of emergency. Say you lose your card. Most credit card companies will rush out a replacement within 72 hours, said Martin Lynch, a compliance manager with Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp. in Agawam, Massachusetts. “But especially if you’re traveling, you’ll have a new one that can tide you over,” he said. Lynch has three credit cards, one of which stays home in case his wallet gets lost or stolen.
  • Diversify card benefits. Maybe your one card is a plain charge card. A second card could be a rewards card. Or, if you already have a travel awards card, a second one could be a cash back card. “The second card – you can use that to balance what you’re not getting from the first card,” said Beverly Harzog, consumer credit expert and author of the book “The Debt Escape Plan.”

Reasons you should not get a second credit card

It might be best for you to stick with one card – at least temporarily – if you currently fall under any of these categories:

  • You’re struggling to pay the one credit card bill you have. Sure, two cards will allow you to spread out charges and due dates, but it will also offer you double the opportunity to sink into debt. “Develop the good habit of paying off a credit card on time and in full, and then you’re ready to move on to another card,” said Harzog.
  • You think a 0% APR offer will solve your debt problems. You’re running a balance on one card, and then you see an offer for a card with 0% interest (or a low introductory rate) for 12 or 18 months. It may look tempting – but refrain from signing up for that second card if you know you won’t be able to pay off the balance during the promotional period. “That just kicks the can down the road,” said Asken. In fact, if you don’t pay attention to the terms of the balance transfer deal, you could end up in deeper debt.
  • You want to buy a new car or a home. If your priority right now is buying a new car or applying for a mortgage loan, it’s best to hold off on getting a second credit card. For the first year after you apply for a credit card, that card appears in the “new credit” section of your credit report, Asken said, and as such has a minor depressive effect on your credit score. But if you wait to apply for a mortgage for at least a year after opening a new line of credit, “that new account has a chance to season and not appear new anymore,” she said. “At that point, it benefits you.”

See related: Best 0% APR credit cards

What to look for in a second credit card

So, you’ve analyzed your situation, made up your mind and decided that you’re still interested in that second card. Here are some points to consider before applying for an additional card:

  • Make sure it matches your lifestyle. Do you want travel rewards points? Cash back? A card for emergencies? If a higher credit limit is all you’re after, the best option is to go to your original creditor and ask for one, said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C. Looking for a better interest rate? Fine, but don’t take that as a license to rack up new debt, he said.
  • Note the annual fee. Annual fees can range from $0 to over $500. Make sure that the fee on the card you like is worth it to you. “You’ve got to look at your spending style,” Harzog said. “Are you going to be able to maximize the benefits from the rewards?” If not, you’re better off sticking to a no-annual-fee card.
  • Read the fine print. Interest rates matter and can vary from card to card. The Federal Reserve is in a rate-hiking cycle. Plus, most cards advertise a range of APRs and you won’t know what your APR will be until you are approved, so know that any balance you carry on the card could become very expensive if you don’t pay it off every month.

What to do if your application for a second card is rejected

What if you apply for a second card, and you’re denied? Don’t be discouraged! Instead, take action and pave the way to get approved the next time you try.

  • Find out why you were rejected. Creditors are required to let you know why they turned you down. Sometimes, the reason is an error in your credit report, and if that’s the case, fix your credit report. Whatever the cause, “If something is serious enough to cause your application to be rejected,” McClary said, “then it’s serious enough to require your immediate attention.”
  • Pay your bills on time.
    If you’ve kept up with your one credit card bill but have fallen behind on student loan payments, that could be the reason behind the denial. As much as 35% of your credit score hangs on timely payments, said Martin Lynch, a compliance manager with Cambridge Credit Counseling Corp in Agawam, Massachusetts. “All open accounts have to be paid on time,” he said.
  • Pay down existing credit card balances. “Every little bit that you can drive down that balance will help your score,” Lynch said. Find out what your credit limit on your card is, and shoot for a balance that’s as low as possible.
  • Become an authorized user on someone else’s account. See if a relative or a partner with good credit will add you as an authorized user on their account. The good payment behavior on that card will then be listed on your credit reports. This is not as risky as it sounds, Lynch said. The primary account holder can ask for a cap on spending by the authorized user – or the two of you can even agree to cut up your card as soon as it arrives in the mail. The point here is to improve your credit score, not to give you access to more methods of spending.
  • Consider meeting with a counselor. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can hook you up with a nonprofit counselor in your area, said McClary, a foundation spokesman. “If you aren’t keeping up with your other financial obligations, it’s important that you get back on track before you try to apply for other credit in the future,” he said.

Card pairings to consider

You’re ready to sign up for a second credit card, but which one should you get? And why? A lot depends on your lifestyle and what would most benefit you. Maybe you have a basic cash back card, but you’d like extra money for your grocery shopping. There’s a card for that.

Or you’d like to rack up travel points while dining out for a trip you’ll take when the world opens back up – there’s a card for that, too. Or maybe, you want to maximize the money you spend on all those streaming services you’ve grown so addicted to – again, there’s a card that can give you a boost with that.

Best pairings for cash back

If you have the Citi® Double Cash Card, consider getting the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express or the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Citi Double is a flat-rate card and great for those who pay their balance off every month. It gives you 1% cash back when you make a purchase and 1% cash back when you pay off those purchases.

The Amex Blue Cash cards (the Blue Cash Everyday has no annual fee, but the Blue Cash Preferred has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95) give you a cash boost when you buy at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. Preferred also awards card users with 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions. Other kinds of purchases, on both cards, is 1% cash back.

Best pairings for travel

If you have the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, consider getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The Bank of America travel card has no annual fee and awards 1.5 points for every dollar spent, with miles redeemable at one cent per mile. In other words, it’s simple and straightforward.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card costs $95 and users who want to get the most out of it should pull it out at key moments. You earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 points per dollar on dining, and 2 points per dollar on other travel purchases. If you redeem your points for travel booked through Chase, you get 1.25 cents per point. You can also use transfer the points to one of Chase’s many airline and hotel partners to use for booking travel on their sites.

Best pairings for the pandemic/staying at home

If you have the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card*, consider getting a Chase Amazon Visa card. The Wells Fargo card from Amex has no annual fee and earns three points per dollar spent on restaurants, bars and takeout, gas stations, ride-shares and transit, homestays, hotels and airplanes, and streaming services. The points are redeemable for travel, cash back or gift cards through a Wells Fargo portal.

The Amazon Visa card maximizes Amazon purchases and spending at Whole Foods (since it’s now owned by Amazon). Like with the Amex Blue card mentioned above, the card has two levels. Amazon Rewards offers 3% cash back at and Whole Foods, 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and 1% cash back everywhere else. Amazon Prime members are eligible for the Amazon Prime card, which gives users 5% cash back at and Whole Foods. The points for either card can be redeemed at Amazon or through Chase.

See related: Which is the best card to use on purchases?

Should you sign up for a second card?

Borrower, know thyself. If managing one card is a breeze, it’s not unreasonable to shop around for another one. You can boost your credit score, you’ll have a backup for emergencies and you can get a second card with benefits that complement the ones offered by your original card.

“You may have different purposes for using credit and sometimes the one card that you have may not serve all the purposes that you have,” McClary said. “That’s a good reason for getting a second card.”

But beware: a second card isn’t for everyone. If you already struggle to pay off the balance on the first card, or if you’re looking for a temporary, low-interest loan to pay off existing credit card debt, a second card will likely be double the trouble.

You also don’t want to open a new credit card account within a year of purchasing a new car or home, as the new line of credit can have a minor depressive effect on your credit score.

Remember, too, to check if there’s an annual fee on the second card and what the APR is on the card. You want to make sure your new card is one you can afford.

“Don’t build credit for credit’s sake,” said Todd Christensen, a financial educator and author of “Everyday Money for Everyday People.” “Credit is just a tool, not the ultimate goal.”

A second credit card will boost your credit score and be a great backup in case of an emergency. Just make sure you can afford it.

*All information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express card has been collected independently by and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This card is no longer available on our site.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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