While it’s not beneficial to saddle yourself with too many forms of debt, it’s not a bad idea to have some options when it comes to credit. If you want to know how many credit cards you should have, know that most of the experts say “more than one.”
We’ve covered the benefits of carrying more than one card below and provided a few tips for putting these financial tools to work so they don’t cost you any money.
Why Carry Credit Cards
Many people — especially younger generations — are trying to eschew debt, which means they look sideways at credit card offers. But here’s the deal: Credit cards do not have to equal debt, and if you know how to use them properly, they can equal savings and extra cash in your pocket.
Here are just a few reasons to carry a couple of credit cards:
- You can build a credit history without paying for the privilege of borrowing (if you pay your balance off each month)
- You can rely on great purchase protections that make it safer to shop online, book travel or pay for good overseas
- You can rack up points for free stuff, including travel
Getting Cards with Varying Benefits and Rewards
You might see the benefit of carrying a credit card but wonder, “Why would I need more than one?”
The biggest reason is that cards offer different benefits, and carrying at least two lets you double up on the perks.
Win with various points and rewards structures
Rewards credit cards let you earn points every time you spend. The way the points accumulate and what you can redeem them for differ by card and rewards program, so having two different rewards cards might be a boon. Popular cards let you earn points toward:
- Cashback on your statement
- Hotel stays
- Travel perks
If you’re a frequent traveler with a penchant for staying in Hilton Hotels, you might opt for a Hilton co-branded card that lets you earn rewards points fast when you travel or spend directly with the hotel chain. At the same time, you might want a cash back card that lets you earn extra cash back on categorical purchases like gas or groceries. With both cards, you can swipe the one that maximizes what you get from the transaction.
So, does that mean two is the right number of credit cards? Not necessarily. You might also want a card with a 0 percent introductory APR to finance a large purchase without accruing interest, for example.
If you’ve got a great cash back or rewards card that lets you rack up benefits but comes with foreign transaction fees, you might also want a card without those fees if you travel outside of the United States regularly.
The right number of cards for you is the number of cards you can appropriately manage and which save you money without costing you money.
Get More Benefits with Additional Cards
Having multiple cards from different banks or credit card companies lets you maximize the perks. Here’s why: The best credit cards come with benefits backed by the bank in question. Some common perks are summarized below.
- Rental car coverage on travel rewards cards lets you decline the rental car company insurance and remain covered — as long as you pay with the card in question.
- Various purchase protections provide peace of mind when you shop, including but not limited to:
- Refund guarantees, which ensures you can seek a refund or a credit from the card company if you’re unhappy with your purchase
- Extended warranties, which cover certain purchases up to a year after the manufacturer’s warranty ends
- Cell phone insurance, which covers the cost of a damaged or stolen phone as long as you paid for the device with your card
- Travel insurance, which offers reimbursements for damages incurred related to travel booked on your card. Offers include, but aren’t limited to:
- Baggage delay and loss insurance
- Trip cancellation insurance
- Accident or injury insurance
- Roadside assistance
- Complimentary concierge services
- Access to VIP events
- Access to airport lounges when traveling
While some luxury cards, come loaded with benefits, no card comes with all the perks offered by every other card. Holding a few cards from different companies lets you gain access to more of the benefits.
Don’t Be Scared of an Annual Fee
But, if I have multiple cards, won’t I pay multiple annual fees? Sounds costly, you might say.
Not true, is what we say. First, many cards come with low or no annual fees. The ones that do have a fee tend to balance that out with perks like free bags on airlines, late checkout on hotels, access to airport lounges and the ability to earn and redeem points. If you put those perks to use, you usually come out ahead of the fee.
The Bottom Line
More credit cards don’t have to equal more debt. If you’re smart, they actually equal more trades on your credit report, which can boost your credit history and result in lower rates on auto and home loans.
So, what’s our final answer? We think the right number of credit cards is not zero or one. Beyond that, it’s a personal number you need to figure out for yourself.
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