How many credit cards should you have?

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With an outpouring of new and improved credit card sign up bonuses offering massive incentives, it can be tough to discern which cards are the best for your individual needs. Specific card benefits, perks and earning rates might be a great fit for one household but completely off base for others.

Depending on your unique travel (and personal finance) goals, it can be difficult to come up with a “credit card portfolio” that makes the most sense just for you. Whether you want the simplicity of a single card or a myriad of ultra-premium travel credit cards (to use daily or just for the perks), we think an intentional card strategy can be rewarding.

How many credit cards should I have at one time?

You will likely get various answers from friends, family, and finance experts if you ask how many credit cards you should have at once. One of the most important considerations is how much the cards will cost you (in the form of annual fees) and how credit cards can affect your credit score.

As always, we recommend that you pay off your credit cards in full every month to avoid fees and interest. Any interest paid will far outweigh the value of points or miles earned from a credit card.

Thankfully, you can hold numerous cards with no annual fee if you want a diverse card portfolio without the hefty price tags. You can also increase your credit score with multiple credit cards by managing them effectively, contradictory to what many believe.

Opening a new credit card can have a temporary negative impact on your credit score, but your score will begin to rebound in a few months and will go up over the long term. Most of the Million Mile Secrets team hold more than a dozen cards each and have credit scores above 800.

For these reasons, I recommend you think carefully about which credit card portfolio strategy is right for you. I’ve broken it down into three categories:

  • Basic (for beginners and simplicity): 1-2 basic cards for all purchases, ideally no (or low) recurring annual fees
  • Intermediate: 3-5 credit cards with varying functions and purpose, some annual fees
  • Expert (for advanced players willing to manage a complex lineup): 8+ cards held for their perks and annual credits, many (often large) annual fees

These by no means are hard and fast rules, but they do provide some guidelines on how to approach building your wallet.

Holding a credit card for perks vs. everyday spend

At first glance, you might prefer the simplicity and low cost of the “basic” card portfolio. But adding a few cards with annual fees can be worth it if the fees are offset by generous spending categories or recurring annual perks like travel and resort credits. And advanced folks willing to manage multiple cards (even if they hardly ever use some of them!) can extract the most value with a strategic and highly optimized card portfolio.

It’s important to note that some cards are great for putting spend on, like Chase or Amex’s flexible-points earning cards, while many airline and hotel co-branded cards don’t offer a worthwhile return on most purchases. But just because you don’t want to spend on co-branded cards, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one (or more!) — as they are great for the perks.

Many hotel credit cards offer annual free night certificates and complimentary elite status while most airline cards offer benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding. Even if you travel just once or twice a year, it’s pretty easy to come out ahead if you can use these benefits.

What are some ideal card combinations to maximize my spending and perks? 

For folks pursuing simplicity, it’s hard to beat a one-size-fits-all card portfolio by relying on the Citi® Double Cash Card. This card earns 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy, plus 1% as you pay) and carries no annual fee. You can even convert your cash back into ThankYou points if you have an attached ThankYou-point-earning card. This allows you to transfer points to travel partners and therefore extract much more value from your points, making this a phenomenal card option.

Intermediate folks often rely on a credit card combo like the Chase Trifecta as well as one or two other easy to maximize cobrand cards. With Chase’s newly increased welcome offers and spending bonuses, as well as the option to Pay Yourself Back, Chase offers a compelling card portfolio all by itself. You could then supplement your Chase cards with a hotel card, say the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (for example), for the hotel elite status, annual free weekend night, resort credit and airline credit. This would give you a well-rounded strategy with strong points earning capabilities and perks at Hilton hotels where your Diamond status will be well-recognized.

Use your Chase points to cover the cost of a flight and then maximize your hotel credit card’s perks for a luxurious stay. (Photo courtesy of Conrad Koh Samui / Hilton)

Advanced or expert hobbyists will often sign up for… as many cards as possible. I’ve known folks with 30+ active credit cards with credit scores in the 800’s who use detailed spreadsheets to manage their cards for spending optimization and to remember when annual fees come due.

Although this option takes some more work, you can score seriously luxurious travel for pennies on the dollar by stacking numerous sign-up bonuses and fully optimizing your day-to-day spending.

For me personally, I use about 5 different credit cards on a weekly basis while chasing the next new card bonus I might be eligible for. My Citi Prestige® Card, American Express® Gold Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® all have a comfy home in my wallet. And I have a few more cards, like The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card that I hold on to but almost never swipe — I just love them for the perks like amazing airport lounge access with the Amex Business Platinum and an annual free night certificate with the IHG Premier card.

The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

There are dozens (if not hundreds!) of available credit cards on the market today. Deciding which cards make the most sense for you can be a daunting, but fun task. And if you’re willing to commit to some small spending modifications, you can reap incredible benefits by strategically using an intermediate or advanced card strategy.

As always, you can check out our recommendations for the latest and greatest credit card offerings that might fit well into your overall credit card portfolio.

How many cards are currently in your wallet?

Featured image by Westend61 / Getty Images.

Jake Pearring is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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