Credit Scores and Reports

How many credit cards do you need? There’s no perfect answer


There’s no single, easy answer for how many credit cards someone should have. After all, It’s not the number of cards you have, it’s what you do with them that matters the most

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Question for the expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
Just how many credit cards should you carry: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, AmEx? Will carrying one card still get you a great credit score? —Linda

Answer for the expert

Hey Linda,
It’s not the number of credit cards you have — it’s what you do with them — says the creator of the most widely used credit scoring model.

Credit cards have become easier to come by since the worst days of the recession, as banks seek out new cardholders: Data from credit bureau Equifax shows that between January and May 2011, almost 15 million new bank cards were issued. That’s the highest total in three years, though it’s only about half of the cards issued during that time period in 2007, before the economic recession took hold. Still, just because they’re easier to get, that doesn’t mean that you need them.

“Yes, you can get an excellent FICO score if you have only one credit card — or no credit cards. The key is how you use the credit that you are granted,” says Craig Watts, spokesman for FICO, in an email. “People with excellent FICO scores generally follow our three guidelines: 1) pay all bills on time (never be late); 2) if you do have one or more credit cards, keep the balances on your card(s) low, the lower the better; and 3) take on new credit obligations sparingly and only when needed. If you just follow those three guidelines consistently over time, you won’t need to ask anyone how many credit cards you ‘should’ have.”

While you may not need to have any plastic, you do need to have used some form of credit in order to have a credit history. On FICO’s website, you can see that “types of credit used” makes up the smallest portion (10 percent) of the categories that influence your credit score. So you might not have a credit card, but having a student loan and a mortgage, for example, would show lenders that you can act responsibly with other types of loans. And that good borrowing behavior would show up on your credit report and help boost your credit score.

As for that last tip from FICO, think carefully about when you decide to open any new lines of credit. That’s because your credit score can suffer a temporary drop when you apply for a new account. Therefore, if you were looking to qualify for a mortgage in the near future, for example, it wouldn’t be a good time to also apply for a bunch of credit cards or rack up balances on those you already have.

It can still be a good idea to have multiple cards, though. During the worst days of the economic recession, card issuers were quick to close accounts or cut credit lines in an effort to protect themselves from losses. And while that’s less true now, having multiple cards can minimize the risk that you’d be left with no credit if one of your cards was closed by the bank.

If a bank does decide to close an account or cut your credit line, that action can cause an increase in your utilization ratio. That’s the comparison between the debt you have and the total credit you have access to — and it’s a factor in determining your credit score.

For example, say you currently have $2,000 in overall credit card debt and a combined total of $10,000 available on all your credit card lines. But then the bank closes a card with a zero balance and a $5,000 line of credit, cutting your total available credit in half. That leaves you with much more debt compared to your total available credit ($2,000 compared to $5,000, in this example) — increasing that utilization ratio.

In the end, whether you have no credit cards or a handful, the key to a great credit score comes down to the basics — paying your bills on time and keeping debt levels low.

Good luck!


See related:  How to cancel a credit card, 10 things you must know about credit reports and scores, 8 legitimate ways to improve your credit score now, How to read, understand your credit report


Meet’s reader Q&A experts

Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday,’s Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.




What’s up next?

In Credit Scores and Reports

Collectible gift cards can be both practical and fun

Although the holidays this year are expected to be heavy on practical presents, giving gift cards can still be fun -- including those featuring 'Twilight' and 'Star Trek' themes.

Published: November 6, 2009

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: October 16th, 2019
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.