How Many Credit Cards Should You Apply for and How Often?

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Update:   A credit card offer in this post may no longer be available, but check the Hot Deals for the latest offers!

Million Mile Secrets reader Kendra emails:

Should we only apply for cards once every 3 to 4 months and apply for several cards at a time?  If so, how many or does it matter at all?  Can we apply for a new card every week?

When To Apply For Credit Cards

How Many Credit Cards Should Kendra Apply for and How Often?

Why You Can’t Apply for New Cards Every Week

I wish I could apply for an unlimited number of credit cards each week!  That would make getting Big Travel with Small Money much easier!

But unfortunately, while we look at credit cards as a way to earn award flights and hotel stays, the banks view credit cards as a business.  And the banks do NOT want to lose money by extending credit to people who will not pay their bills.

So each bank determines how much credit to give you based on factors such as your income, history of repaying debts, and the number of new credit card accounts you’ve opened recently.

Too many accounts opened in a short time is a red flag!

Why Does It Matter?

Link:   The 5 Dangers of Applying for Credit Cards

It’s important to protect your credit score.  Your credit score is worth much more than miles & points.  That’s because having an excellent credit score will help you through many major financial moments in life such as, buying a home, buying a car, getting a student loan, and even turning on your utilities.

If Kendra has a poor credit score, she could get a higher interest rate on major loans or even be blacklisted.  This could cost her tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a 30 year mortgage!  So Kendra should NOT get into the miles & points game if she doesn’t pay her bills in full each month.

When To Apply For Credit Cards

A Poor Credit Score Could Cost You!

Fortunately, many folks who apply for lots of credit cards see their credit score increase!  But you have to make sure you are spreading out your applications and paying your bills on time!

How Does Applying for Credit Cards Impact Your Credit Score?

Link:   Does Applying for Credit Cards Ruin Your Credit Score?

Link:   5 Ways to Find Our Which Credit Bureau Banks Use

Each time you apply for a credit card, the bank pulls your credit score.  And when a bank makes a credit inquiry, your score can temporarily be lowered by 3 to 5 points, but this effect drops off after 3 to 6 months.  Even though the inquiry stays on your report for 2 years.

When To Apply For Credit Cards

Applying for Credit Cards Can Lower Your Credit Score in the Short Term

Signing-up for new credit cards can also increase your credit score over time because it increases the amount of credit extended to you and therefore gives you a lower credit utilization rate (as long as your paying your bills in full each month!).

How Often & How Many Cards Should You Apply For?

Banks don’t like to see a lot of credit inquiries on your credit report because it means you could be less likely to pay back your debt.

So it’s key to apply for credit cards from different banks.  That’s because many banks will allow only a limited number of open accounts and they typically pull your credit report from just 1 of the 3 credit bureaus.

When To Apply For Credit Cards

Applying for Too Many Cards at Once Could Get Kendra Blacklisted!

There are 2 ways folks approach the timing of their applications:

1.   Apply for a Few Cards Each Quarter

The effect of credit inquiries drops off after 3 to 6 months.  So some people like to apply for 3 to 4 cards every 3 to 4 months.

They apply for 3 to 4 cards at the same time because some believe that banks won’t see the inquiries from other banks on the same day.

2.   Wait for the Big Sign-Up Bonuses

Another way to time your applications is to apply for the increased sign-up bonuses when they are available.  Or when you feel comfortable meeting the minimum spending.  You could apply for 1 card now, and another one in ~1 or 2 months.

For example, there is currently a limited time increased sign-up bonus for 3 AMEX Delta Airlines cards.  If you sign-up for 1 these cards and complete the minimum spending, you will get 15,000 to 20,000 more Delta Airlines miles than the usual bonus.

The Chase United Airlines Explorer card’s sign-up bonus has also increased to 50,000 United Airlines miles from 30,000 United Airlines miles.

However, Kendra is new to miles and points, so I recommend she start out slowly with 1 to 2 cards to see how her credit score is affected.  She could apply for a no annual fee card like the Chase Freedom because she will never have to cancel it.  This will help her build a long credit history, which accounts for 15% of your credit score.

Bottom Line

It’s important to be careful when applying for lots of credit cards because you want to maintain good relationships with the banks and build a good credit history.  Having an excellent credit score will help you obtain the best possible rate on a major loan in the future.

You can apply for 3 to 4 credit cards once every 3 to 4 months or wait for the big sign-up bonuses, but make sure you mix your applications between different banks.

I recommend that folks who are new to miles and points start out slowly by only applying for 1 or 2 cards.  This will give you time to see the impact on your personal credit score.

If you’re just getting started, the Chase Freedom card is a good choice because it has no annual fee, which will help you establish a long-term relationship with the bank.

Thanks for your question, Kendra!

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19 responses to “How Many Credit Cards Should You Apply for and How Often?

  1. I love your site!! Just to make a note regarding inquiries, they stay on your credit report 2 years.

  2. Why are you saying inquiries drop off after 3 to 4 months? Certainly you know they don’t drop off for two years!

  3. Regarding inquiries, I believe he was trying to say the effect the inquiries will have on your credit score drop off after 3-4 months.

  4. What’s the effect on your score if all of those cards have an annual fee and so you cancel them a year later? Is there a recommended proportion of cards to keep vs. cards to cancel early that will most help to protect a score?

  5. Although I have a terrific FICO score, I was a bit worried about applying for the 70,000 point Chase Marriott card last week because I already had four other Chase cards, including the Freedom Card I got just two months ago. I got the application pending message, called the reconsideration line, and was told that as long as I was willing to shift some of my available credit from other Chase cards to the Marriott card, I would be approved on the spot. So my advice is, if you have good credit, go for the best offer no matter when it comes.

  6. This is bad advice. Pushing card apps so that you can make your money at the detriment of your readers is terrible.

    If you’re indiscriminately applying for four cards every three months, I can guarantee that you’ll start getting denials for too many inquiries pretty quick. You’re also going to hit max credit limits and get burned if you’re trying to churn cards.

  7. @sechs – How else is he going to answer the question of a reader wondering if they can apply for a card EVERY WEEK? This appears to be sound advice to me when you consider the bank diversification aspect he pointed out. I’ve been doing this for years and have never been denied.

  8. @sechs He never told us to blindly apply for credit cards, the advice on this article is solid and i couldn’t agree more. It all depends on your credit score and history. I applied and got instant approval for 9 credit cards this month without a problem. All i did was apply for cards with different banks and there was no problem. Basically, its important to study your credit score and apply to cards accordingly. If you do get denied for too many inquiries, just stop applying for the next few months and apply again, no one will get “burned” as long as you are careful

  9. In the last year, I’ve applied and been approved (every time) for 2 SW chase cc, 1 chase freedom, 1 Amex spg, 1 citibank AA exec cc. About 3 months apart. In each case, my fico score went up by 8-12 pts. I started at 770 and I’m now around 830. On all my cards, my limit is around 25k, and so I’m assuming that my debt to credit ratio, which is around 3%, is driving this rise in credit score. The hard pulls seem to have less of an affect than the ratio, in other words. Before this year, I hadn’t applied for a cc in about 3 years. So perhaps that helped.

  10. @chris and vanessa- you are correct the the inquiries appear on your report for two years. I think that Dariaus is moreso referring to the effect on your credit score, not necessarily the existance of inquiries. It is commonly held belief that while the inquiries still appear there, your actual credit score only suffers the 3-5 points for at most 6 months.

    @PSL- i had the same experience… I already had four chase credit cards, and tried to apply for the united one. Got a ‘pending’ message, and they told me they had already allotted me all the credit I was allowed based on my income. I had gotten a ridiculously high amount of credit on my last application (The Marriott), so I had them reduce that by several thousand dollars, which more than compensated for the additional credit I requested.

  11. @vanessa @chris He says the *effect* of inquiries (on your credit score) drops off after 3-6 months, not the inquiry.

  12. In the past 12 months my wife and I got 40 new credit cards with major sign-up bonuses totaling about 1.5 million points. My credit score last year was in the 720s – it’s now 814. I never worried about timing my applications – I just apply when the bonuses are high.

  13. Traveling Shelley

    THANK YOU for posting this. Every day, you probably have new people discover these methods and as they learn more they may have a few questions about the details. These basic rules of the road are super helpful for those just getting on the highway of free travel! Well done.

  14. The previous post somehow got posted early. I meant to say: Is the 70,000 Marriott bonus offer still open? I had intended to apply last week, something came up while I was filling it out, then I got distracted and forgot. PSL reminded me I hadn’t finished the app and I just wanted to check and see if 70,000 was still the going rate

    • @vanessa @Chris – That’s true, but the “impact” of the inquiries reduces with each month (and particularly after the 1st few months).

      @sechs – I’v been doing that for years with a high score and get approved!

      @Joel – Nice haul!

      @Traveling Shelley – Thanks!

      @Sportsbiz – It should be there in the Hot Deals tab.

  15. I now have 20 credit cards, including 8 Chase and 6 Amex. On the last round, I closed an AmEx card in order to get the new Everyday card. I was willing to do this with Chase also, but they approved me and Marriott gave me a $25,000 line of credit. I have $225,000 worth if credit., and my credit score is high. My problem is how to get rid if sOme of these cards without ruining my credit.

  16. I have the same question with susangol. You might have already write in one of your blog, but may be you can give us more tips of how to close the cards. BTW, thank you for sharing your secrets in travel big with small money 🙂

  17. Can I apply for Chase Ink Business and personal at the same time?

  18. Pingback: Why we maximize credit card points - ActiveTrekker