And just how many is too many, anyway? Here's how to find your right number.

You want a healthy amount of credit

Credit report with score on a desk
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Your credit profile should be balanced. This means it’s good to have multiple credit cards.

Numerous accounts give you lots of available credit. The ratio of your available credit to your overall debt plays a role in determining your credit score.

Having one maxed-out credit card can affect your credit score more negatively than the same balance spread over two cards.

Many experts say you should have at least two credit cards, but the paramount consideration is proper credit utilization. In other words, the number of cards is less significant than how you use the ones you have.

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Adopting a 2-card strategy

Credit cards in sand on white background
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Your two credit cards might be a cash-back credit card or other rewards credit card, and a low-interest credit card.

You'd use the rewards card for your daily spending: groceries, gas, paying bills. But you must pay off the balance each month. Otherwise, you’ll build unsustainable debt that will hurt your credit and take you down a road to insolvency.

Additionally, pay attention to the rewards terms. Some cards reward grocery purchases but not online transactions, while others will save the best rewards for your spending at the gas pump.

The low-interest card is good to have for major purchases you'll need to pay over time, such a new appliance or plane tickets for your vacation in Australia.

3rd card's the charm?

Woman's hand holding credit cards on white background
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A third card can help if you are ever in a jam. Having a credit card that you don’t use, except for emergencies, can be a good strategy.

The available, unused credit will look good on your record and will boost your credit score. If you are going to use this strategy, you will want to find a card with no annual fees so that your backup plan doesn't end up costing you more money than it saves.

A recent survey by the credit bureau Experian found the average American has three credit cards, which is probably a reasonable number for most people.

Some consumers have a hard time stopping at three. The record is held by Walter Cavanagh of Santa Clara, California, who has amassed 1,497 credit cards — all valid, according to Guinness World Records.

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Consider where you shop

NEW YORK CITY - SEPTEMBER 30 2017: Costco stores joined other national retailers in offering an emergency survival kit for $1000.00
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While most retailers take all major plastic, some have limitations. Costco, for example, has accepted only Visa since 2016, so if you are a Costco shopper you’ll want to make sure one of your cards is a Visa.

Different cards offer rewards, cash back, low interest or no interest. Having various cards is a good way to maximize the perks and avoid heavy interest costs.

The optimal number of credit cards is a personal choice based on your credit profile and finances. Ultimately, having a single credit card requires responsible financial decisions, and the same applies to multiple cards.

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About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Former Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman was formerly the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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