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How many credit cards should I have?

Aug. 29, 2022
11 min read
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There’s never been a time in the history of credit cards where consumers are presented with as many options as they have today. From six-figure welcome offers to bonus points on everyday purchases, issuers are competing for your attention — and your application.

Over time, you might find yourself in a swirling maelstrom of credit cards. We’re no stranger to this — Brian Kelly, The Points Guy himself, has 20-plus cards. In fact, the average number of cards on TPG’s editorial staff is 11. Credit bureau Experian reports that U.S. consumers have nearly four credit cards each.

With that said, you may ask the question: how many credit cards should I have in my wallet? In short, your answer will depend on a few factors that are unique to you.

"The ideal number of credit cards to have is the optimal amount to earn enough points and miles and access benefits to reach your travel goals," says TPG senior credit cards editor Matt Moffitt.

But how can you figure out your ideal number? To start, the ability to open a credit card is based on your credit score, income and employment status. From there, your average spend, rewards goals and travel habits will determine a big part of the story. In addition to these considerations, I’ll angle my recommendations to someone who has at least an inkling of an interest in credit cards and points and miles.

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How many credit cards should I have?

The Points Guy recommends the ideal number of credit cards ranges somewhere between 3 and 10 cards. This is an answer specifically geared to those who want to earn points and miles for travel rewards.

While 10 credit cards can seem like a lot, many cards pair well together. For example, if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it only makes sense to add the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to your wallet to round out the so-called “Chase Trifecta,” maximizing the opportunities to earn and redeem your Ultimate Rewards points. Since all three cards earn the same rewards currency, you can pool your points together and maximize their value.

Maximize your top spend categories

One of the main advantages of using a credit card is the ability to earn rewards. Even if you’re just earning 1 point per dollar spent on your purchases, that’s a better return than using a debit card that doesn’t have a rewards rate at all. Just remember, any rewards that you earn will be negated if you miss a payment and owe interest to your credit card issuer, so be sure to spend responsibly.

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If you are good at paying your bills on time and in full, credit cards shouldn’t be a scary concept. However, it’s crucial to skim over your day-to-day spending habits and determine your top five to seven spend categories. When you know your main purchase categories, it will feel less overwhelming to figure out the right number of cards for you.

FG-TRADE/GETTY IMAGES

I’ll walk you through my situation as an example. As a New Yorker in my early 20s, I allocate most of my budget to rent, groceries, dining, local transit, gym membership, cellphone bill and online shopping.

Although startup Bilt Rewards is changing the game by offering a way for eligible renters to earn points (fee-free) on rent, I live in a pre-war building owned by one family. Since my landlord only accepts cashier’s checks, earning points on rent is out of the question at this time. Still, there are plenty of ways to earn bonus points on the rest of my expenses.

Some cards knock out two or three purchase categories at a time. For someone like me, the American Express® Gold Card is a great choice as it offers 4 points per dollar on dining and on up to $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per year (then 1 point per dollar). Since TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, that’s an 8% return on groceries and dining that take up a considerable portion of my monthly budget.

RYAN PATTERSON/THE POINTS GUY

I’ll need to spend a minimum of $3,150 combined on dining and grocery purchases each year to make up for the Amex Gold’s $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). Throw in the other benefits of the card, such as an up to a $120 annual Uber Cash credit and up to a $120 annual dining statement credit on eligible restaurants, and this card is the ultimate choice for foodies. Enrollment is required for these benefits.

While I could get a card that earns bonus points on my monthly Verizon cellphone bill, I prefer to use a card that includes complimentary cell phone protection when paying my bill with the card. I might only earn 1 point per dollar on non-bonus purchases, but this benefit is much more important to me than earning bonus points in this category. AppleCare for my iPhone can run more than $200 annually, so this complimentary benefit is another great way to ensure peace of mind without paying up more.

Next, as a Hyatt fan, I could pick up the World of Hyatt Credit Card as it earns 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting as well as on gym memberships. With a reasonable $95 annual fee, there are plenty of other benefits of owning the card, such as automatic Discoverist elite status and a free night certificate for Category 1-4 properties on your cardmember anniversary.

The Park Hyatt Toronto THE PARK HYATT/FACEBOOK

When it comes to online shopping and other miscellaneous purchases that don’t fit under these other categories, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is ideal to sweep up those remaining rewards. This card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, no matter the category. Whenever I just want one card to bring with me, the Venture is my go-to since I know I’ll always snag a great return. There’s a $95 annual fee, but I also got my Global Entry application reimbursed with this card — a $100 value alone.

This is just one scenario of how you could pick up multiple cards to help maximize your everyday purchases. There’s an infinite combination of cards you can open that will also offer great results.

Review the types of rewards credit cards you want

It’s easiest to wrap your head around the credit card world if you compartmentalize each type of card. In terms of rewards credit cards, you have:

Of course, it’s not necessary to carry all five types of credit cards.

ISABELLE RAPHAEL/THE POINTS GUY

“I would say the average person could cover their bases with one airline card, one transferable points card, one cash-back card with different bonus categories for everyday expenses and one hotel card if they stay with a chain more than a couple times a year,” says Eric Rosen, TPG director of content. “Then, just consider the annual fees you’re paying to make sure you’re pulling more value from each card’s benefits than it costs to carry each year and voilà.”

When you stick to one to two cards per category, your life is much simpler. When you start to have a dozen (or more) credit cards, you start to spread out your rewards rather than focusing on a handful of powerhouse cards that earn points and miles. Even when there’s an enticing welcome bonus, think wisely about if the card fits into your strategy before applying.

Ultimately, the cards you own will come down to preference: do you mind having credit cards from different issuers or would you rather have your cards streamlined with one bank? Do you have a favorite travel brand and want to earn points and miles in that respective loyalty program, no matter if you’re “maximizing” every dollar you’re spending? Or would you rather have a cash-back card for simplicity?

These are all questions to think about on top of the rewards you’ll earn from your cards.

Don’t stress over missed opportunities

Once you get comfortable with your credit cards and remember all of the rewards rates that come on your cards, you’ll quickly become an expert in your field. You’ll come to understand which card to use for groceries and which card to use for booking flights. But if you accidentally use the “wrong” card for a purchase and miss the opportunity to earn bonus points, don’t fret.

Forgetting to use the right card for your $3 coffee is not a dealbreaker CATHERINE FALLS COMMERCIAL/GETTY IMAGES

This is an important guiding principle as you add multiple cards to your wallet. While it’s important to stay organized, if you forget and use a card that doesn’t earn any bonus points on gas, it’s not the end of the world to miss out on 40 extra points. You will still earn points rather than putting the charge on a debit card or paying cash and earning no rewards at all.

Tips for keeping up with multiple credit cards

It takes time to add cards to your wallet, so don’t worry if you haven’t reached the “ideal” number of cards in your wallet yet. Once you do, though, below are some tips for keeping up with your multiple credit cards.

Switching to a mobile wallet has freed up room in my physical wallet JACOB LUND/SHUTTERSTOCK

Create a mobile wallet

Whether it’s Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay or another form of a mobile wallet, you can load multiple cards on your phone to lighten up the load on your wallet. With issuers creating more metal credit cards than ever before, it’s nice to leave the cards at home (though they may look nice). While I still carry three physical cards with me at all times in case a store doesn’t accept contactless payment, my digital wallet allows me to rotate and use cards that don’t get as much love.

Download the TPG app

Sign up for our TPG app which is a game changer for the world of points, miles and credit cards. That’s because you can load all your cards to preview your spending and rewards rates, as well as see the various points and miles you own from all of your favorite travel loyalty brands. Among other features, the Award Explorer allows you to search award travel pricing and a curated home feed loads articles related to your preference and travel style.

Downgrade or cancel your cards

If you incrementally add cards over the years and find yourself stressed at the number of cards you have in your rotation — or you are taken aback by the number of annual fees you pay each year — consider downgrading or canceling your cards. You’re never obligated to one card, so know that you can always switch up your style at any point.

Bottom line

The ideal number of credit cards for your grandparent versus someone who’s remotely interested in accruing points and miles for travel will vary drastically. Even though my friends and family always gawk when I tell them I have eight credit cards, they all play strategically in my award travel strategy and long-term goals.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, click here.

Additional reporting by Emily Thompson.

Featured image by (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023