How Many Credit Cards Should I Have to Build Credit?

The right number of credit cards depends on your financial situation, credit utilization, and your ability to manage credit.

Updated: July 18, 2023

How Many Credit Cards Should I Have to Build Credit?

Building healthy credit is key to ensuring your financial future. Having a good credit score increases your chances of being approved for all kinds of essential funding, from personal loans to mortgage loans. It’s also key to qualifying for the best interest rates. If you don’t currently have stellar credit, credit cards can be an excellent tool to help you build it up.

So, how does it work? And how many credit cards should you have to build credit? Here are some useful guidelines to help you optimize your credit-building strategy.

Key takeaways

  • Credit cards allow you to build a positive payment history quickly, which can help boost your credit score and demonstrate that you’re a responsible borrower.

  • Opening too many cards too quickly could have a negative impact on your credit.

  • You’ll need to pay off all credit cards in full and on time to reap the benefits.

How to build credit with a credit card

Any time you take out a new loan — whether that’s a personal loan, a student loan refinance, or a mortgage loan — you’ll need to show your lender that you’re creditworthy, i.e. don’t pose much risk of non-payment. Lenders want to make sure you can afford your monthly payments. To do that, they’ll assess your credit history before agreeing to loan you any money. Lenders are more likely to extend credit to people with a proven history of timely repayments. That’s where credit cards come in.

Used properly, credit cards could help you build your payment history relatively quickly. That’s because they’re easier to qualify for than personal loans, and they can be used for any number of everyday purchases.

Using credit cards to boost credit score

Credit cards are a great tool for boosting your credit score, which is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness. Lenders use this score to assess your credit risk. The FICO score is the most common type of credit score. On the FICO scale, 850 is the best credit score you can achieve, and 300 is the lowest. Although this varies by lender, in general, to qualify for most loans, you’ll need a credit score of 650 or higher.

Credit score matters for other reasons, too. Employers increasingly want to see proof of financial responsibility before hiring. A good credit history could also lead to lower insurance premiums on auto, home, or life insurance policies.

How credit scores are calculated

The FICO credit score formula is based on these five components:

  1. Payment history (35%): More than a third of your credit score is based on your ability to keep up with current repayments. Missed payments, defaults, and collections could all significantly hurt your credit score. So, be sure to keep making on-time payments on any outstanding debts while you’re working on building your credit.

  2. Credit utilization (30%): Your Credit utilization ratio (CUR) is the second-most important component of a FICO store. Your CUR is the percentage of your available credit that you’re currently using. For example, if your total credit limit is $10,000 and you owe $4,000 in total debt, your credit utilization ratio is $4,000/$10,000, or 40%. To maintain a good credit score, strive to keep your CUR below 30%.

  3. Length of credit history (15%): To get a minimum FICO score, you need to have at least one credit account that’s been open for six months or more. But to get a maximum score in this category, you’ll need to have had open credit accounts for at least several years.

  1. Credit mix (10%): A diverse credit mix indicates your ability to manage different types of credit responsibly. So, if you have some student loans, a couple of credit cards, a mortgage loan, and a car loan, you likely have a favorable credit mix.

  2. New credit (10%): If you open a lot of credit cards in a short period of time, lenders may view that as a sign of financial instability. If you can, try to space out how often you apply for new credit cards or other lines of credit by at least six months.

How to start using cards to build credit

You can apply for most credit cards either online or in person through banks and other financial institutions. If you have no previous credit history, you may want to consider getting a secured credit card as your first credit card. A secured card requires a cash deposit as collateral, but it doesn’t often involve a credit check. If you’re a student, you may also qualify for a low-interest student credit card.

Once you have your first credit card, use it regularly but responsibly. Make sure to pay off the balance in full and on time every month. After a while, your credit report will show a pattern of on-time payments, which will help you build a positive payment history.

How many credit cards should I have to build credit?

According to Experian, the average American had 3.1 credit cards in 2020 with an average credit limit of $30,365. The average Gen Z consumer currently has 2.1 credit cards.

That said, your optimal number of credit cards will depend on your individual circumstances. Consider these guidelines when deciding how many cards to sign up for:

  • Financial situation: Your personal finance priorities will be different if you’re, say, a new student with no credit history versus a homeowner with bad credit and significant debt. While both situations require credit-building efforts, the recommended approach will be different for each. If you’re just beginning to build credit, you may want to start by applying for one credit card. However, if your low score is due to missed payments or collections, make sure you’re on top of all existing payments before applying for any new credit.

  • Credit utilization: When you open new credit cards, you immediately increase your cumulative total credit limit. In theory, that lets you cover all your usual expenses but at a lower percentage of your total limit. This reduced credit utilization ratio (CUR) could have a positive impact on your credit score. If your credit utilization is currently above 30%, applying for additional credit could be a smart move.

  • Ability to manage credit: Simply having more credit cards does not guarantee that you’ll build credit faster. It’s more important to use your credit card accounts responsibly. This means making on-time payments, keeping track of due dates, and paying off the full balance each month. If you discover you have a knack for juggling multiple cards successfully, having more than one card can be beneficial. But if you’re concerned about overspending, you may be better off with a single credit card.

Can I apply for multiple credit cards at once?

You can apply for and get approved for multiple credit cards at once, but be sure to consider these factors first.

Impact on your credit score

Having several credit cards can positively impact your credit utilization ratio, but opening several credit cards at once isn’t always a good thing. Credit bureaus may see this as a sign of overreliance on credit, or as an indicator of financial instability. That may make lenders reluctant to extend credit to you. Additionally, each time you apply for a credit card, the credit card issuer pulls your credit report to check your creditworthiness. This triggers what’s called a ”hard inquiry” on your report. Hard inquiries could cause your credit score to dip temporarily.

Multiple rejections

During the application review process, lenders assess factors like your income and credit history to determine your eligibility. Submitting multiple credit card applications could increase your chances of being approved for at least one card. However, when applying for multiple credit cards at once, you run the risk of getting rejected multiple times. Frequent rejections in a short period could be a red flag for lenders who may see you as a risky borrower. That could make it harder for you to get credit in the future. If you’ve just been rejected for a card, it’s best to work on improving your credit score before trying again.

Your ability to make payments

You generally shouldn’t open new credit cards unless you can commit to responsible spending habits. Don’t look at a higher credit limit as permission to spend more. Instead, focus on using new cards for regular, essential expenses and always pay your bill on time. It’s also best to pay the balance off in full, rather than just making the minimum required credit card payment each month. This demonstrates responsible financial behavior. It can also help you avoid going into credit card debt and accruing interest charges.

The pros and cons of having multiple credit cards

Having multiple credit cards can offer both advantages and disadvantages.

The pros of having multiple credit cards

  • When you pay your credit card balances in full each month, this shows lenders you can handle credit responsibly.

  • Having multiple credit cards gives you a higher total credit limit, which could help keep your total credit utilization rate low.

  • When you have multiple cards, you can spread your purchases across them. This can keep the credit utilization ratio low for each individual card. (Maxing out your credit cards or excessively charging them is considered risky credit behavior.)

  • Different credit card companies provide various perks and rewards programs. A cash-back card could provide you with extra spending money, while travel credit cards, retail cards, and other rewards credit cards could help you earn travel rewards, airline miles, or discounts at certain stores. These perks could help you take advantage of extra savings while you build your credit.

The cons of having multiple cards

  • With multiple cards at your disposal, it can be tempting to spend beyond your means.

  • Managing multiple cards with various due dates can require a high level of organization. If you accidentally overlook a payment, you’ll be responsible for paying late fees and interest charges. It could also hurt your credit score.

  • When a cardholder opens multiple credit cards within a short space of time, that could be a red flag for potential lenders. Multiple hard inquiries could also temporarily drop your credit score.

  • While many credit cards — especially balance transfer cards — offer 0% interest and free credit for the first few months, you may be required to pay annual fees after the initial introductory offer. These fees can add up quickly as you accumulate more cards.

Compare credit cards on Navient Marketplace

Whether you want to add diversity to your credit mix or increase your credit utilization ratio through additional lines of credit, Navient can help you find credit card offers tailored just for you. Explore Navient Marketplace today to begin your search and find the best credit card for your financial goals.

Navient may receive compensation when you click on links associated with this Navient Marketplace. Navient is not being compensated for any application, quotation, or the purchase of any financial products.

 

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.

 

 Information in this blog, including the rates advertised, are current as of 06/20/2023 and subject to change. For current rates, please visit https://marketplace.navient.com/.

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