Should a student have more than one card?

Opening Credits columnist Eric Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for

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Dear Opening Credits,
I want to know if it is a good idea to have three credit cards at the age of 20 and in college. -- Abisola


Dear Abisola,
Sure, why not? That's a rather glib response, but what I mean by it is this: If you can handle multiple accounts well and with ease, there is nothing wrong and everything right about doing so.

First, let's cover why you might want to have several credit cards. There are a few main reasons.

  • Extended charging ability. Every credit card comes with its own credit line. One might have a $500 limit, another $1,000 and another $5,000. The combination would enable you to borrow more than you would on a single card. This would be a valuable convenience when you don't have the cash to pay for an especially expensive item immediately (but will when the bill comes in). Just choose the card with the correct limit for your purchase (meaning charge small things with the small-limit card and larger purchases with the bigger-limit card), then pay as contractually agreed.
  • Backup accounts. If one of your credit cards was used fraudulently, the issuer may shut the account down while you're sorting everything out. Having an alternate in your wallet will ensure that you can still charge as you need or want. This is especially important if you're traveling, as it can be disastrous to be stuck far from home without the means to book a hotel or rent a car.
  • Credit scoring hike. The information on your credit report is calculated into credit scores, such as the FICO. A prolonged history of using several different credit accounts will increase your scores. Great scores will help you qualify for the best credit products: those with the lowest interest rates and fees, plus super rewards programs.

The question remains, though, can you manage them all perfectly? It's entirely possible (people do it all the time), but it's not always easy. You're probably a busy student with much to think about. Yet proper credit card management does require time and attention.

Presuming you do get the credit cards you want (which may be tricky because of your age as you may need a co-signer), you'll have to commit to using them beneficially. Here are my five commandments of excellent credit card management:

  1. Charge only what you can repay quickly. You do not want to get into overwhelming debt. Trust me. The only way to avoid it is by making sure that you can and will repay the balance in full in about 30 days. Sure you can pay partially, but until you get into the habit of always paying in full, don't.
  2. Honor the due dates. Each of your cards will have different dates when a payment is due. Find out when they are and pay on or before that date. If you miss a payment, a fee will usually be assessed, and if you skip more than one billing cycle, the late payment will most likely end up on your credit report. Then your FICO scores will drop, as on-time payments are the most important factor in their calculations.
  3. Alternate among the cards. Use each account occasionally to keep them alive. Each issuer has ts own policies regarding closure for inactivity, but a good rule of thumb is to make a purchase at least once every few months. Do so and you can avoid the surprise cancellation.
  4. Check your statements frequently. With each account, you'll have a different statement to keep check frequently. Thankfully you can do it online, any time. At least once a month, log onto to each card issuer's website and review your statements, checking thoroughly for correct activity. Address any problems you might spot immediately.
  5. Monitor your credit reports. It is up to you to make sure that the data that appears on your credit reports is correct. A 2013 report by the Federal Trade Commission found 1 in 5 credit reports contains an error. To find out is yours is among them, pull your TransUnion, Equifax and Experian reports for free once a year from The best way is to access one report from each credit reporting agency four months. As a reminder, mark your calendar for January, May and September. This way you'll get each for free, will have a running account of what's going on and can dispute inaccuracies quickly.

And finally, keep your cards safe and private. Never (ever) share them with your friends or family or leave them out in the open.

See related: How many cards is too many?

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Updated: 01-21-2019