With so many tempting credit card offers out there — we’re looking at you, Chase Sapphire Reserve — who wouldn’t want to take advantage of them and sign up? But some consumers may have reason to wonder if filling out all of those credit card applications may add up to something more concerning: a bad credit score. Is there ever such a thing as too many cards?
To find out, we turned to Rod Griffin, director of education for Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here’s what he told us.
“It’s not the number of credit cards you have, it’s how you use the cards that you have,” he said via email. “You only need one or two credit cards to have good credit scores. Just what constitutes ‘too many’ depends on the person and their unique credit history.”
It’s important to know that credit scores today put a big emphasis on utilization, or how much credit you use weighed against how much is actually made available to you. This accounts for 30 to 35% of a consumer’s credit score, Griffin said, so “the number of credit cards you carry is less important than the balances you carry on the cards in your wallet.” (You can see where your own credit stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
The Risk of Hard Inquiries
With these factors in mind, it’s probably not a good idea to apply for a lot of credit cards all at once since multiple inquiries can raise a red flag to lenders, Griffin said. “The underlying questions a lender may have are, ‘Why is the person suddenly applying for a lot of potential new debt? Are they going to charge more than they can afford and not be able to repay the debt?’ ”
Yet the risk associated with applying for multiple cards does vary by your credit standing. If your credit history is already in poor shape, “applying for just two or three cards in a short time might be ‘too many,’ ” Griffin warned. Conversely, a person with a good credit history may not feel much of a burn from submitting two or three credit card applications.
Remember to Swipe Wisely
Whether you’re using an old credit card or a shiny new one, you’ll want to do your best to use it smartly. That means working to pay your balances off on time, and in full, every month, to help you maintain a low utilization rate, Griffin said. Likewise, avoid carrying a balance near the credit limit on even one card as this can “seriously impact credit scores,” he added. “If you have 10 credit cards, use them to make small purchases, and then pay the balances in full each month. You will have a low utilization rate, which will benefit scores.”
He added, “the right question isn’t really about how many cards is ‘too many.’ The right question is, ‘How do you use the cards you have available to you?'”
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