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Benefits of credit card use

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.

Your credit profile should be balanced, and having multiple credit cards can help you achieve that.

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.

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Adopting a 2-card strategy

Your two credit cards might be a cash-back credit card or other rewards credit card, and then a low-interest credit card.

You can 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.

Should you have 3 credit cards?

A third credit 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.

Data from credit bureau Experian found the average American has four 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 Manish Dhameja of India, who has amassed 1,638 credit cards — all valid, according to Guinness World Records.

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How to pick the credit cards you should have

When deciding how many credit cards you should have, it's important to also consider which credit cards those will be. One of the best ways to determine the right credit cards for you are to consider where you do the majority of your spending.

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, whether you have a single credit card or many, it requires you making responsible financial decisions.

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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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