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I'm a graduate student in the US since Fall 2013. While I started working at my university the same year, I applied for my first credit card(Discover it) only during March 2014. After about 6 months(Oct/Nov 2014), I wanted to apply for another one, but as my credit history was only a few months long then, I settled for a credit card of the bank(PNC) where I had a checking account. Both these credit cards were approved after a review period(3-5 business days). After this, I had no intention of applying for more credit cards.

This year during May, I received a pre-approved offer for the Chase Freedom credit card. My credit score was about 740 at the time, with about a year and a couple of months worth of credit history. I found mostly very good reviews of this credit card, and so applied for it immediately, with $2.5k of credit line.

Within another month, towards the end of June, I got a pre-approved offer for the American Express Everyday credit card. Again, I applied for it and was approved immediately with the same credit line as Chase Freedom's.

My credit score as of now is 703 (I assume due to the multiple lines of new credit), and a couple of days back I received an offer for the pre-approved Capital One Quicksilver credit card. There are some appealing points in this card, such as unlimited 1.5% cash back, and access to higher credit line after 5 monthly on-time payments. The offer is valid till sometime in September.

Nevertheless, should I stay away from a new credit card at the moment? I feel four credit cards are sufficient as of now, but again, more credit equals to lesser utilization which helps build up the credit history (and score) over time, or so I heard. Should I look for another credit card somewhere around mid-2016 next instead?

I have no loans, and I have made all my monthly bills in full every month so far. The credit limit for the other two cards(Discover and PNC) is $1000 each. My total credit history length so far would be about one and half years.

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    Personal opinion: the optimal number is two. One mostly for online use, one mostly for other things, each serving as backup if I need to cancel/reset the other. Plus the work expense account card. Why would I need more? (Well, I may be forced to get an amex someday since that's the only card one big-box store accepts.) If you're tempted by a start-up deal, consider cancelling another card. – keshlam Aug 9 '15 at 4:18
  • Your question title asks for an optimal number of credit cards, but you haven't actually stated what you're trying to optimize for. The greatest amount of short-term credit? The highest possible credit score over the long term? What are you trying to achieve? – lid Aug 9 '15 at 13:08
  • Like a kid in a candy store. <g> – Pete Becker Aug 9 '15 at 13:22
  • @lid: I'm trying to maintain the right mix of cards, which helps build up a solid history over time. Something like highest possible credit score over the long term, as you mentioned. – Manish Giri Aug 10 '15 at 3:03
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I have found that between the Discover card and a Visa/Master Card a person has everything covered. In my case the Discover card had the best deal (cash back) and the Visa/Master Card took care of those times a vendor didn't take Discover. One big Box store (Costco) did trip us up, so we did end up getting an American Express card. But Costco is dropping that requirement in 2016.

One advantage of only having a few cards is that the increase in your total credit line will be split among fewer cards. In your question the highest max limit on one card is $2500, what will you do if you have to take a flight at the last minute and the Airline ticket is more than that?

If you need a higher limit, ask for one of your existing cards to raise it; don't go out and get another card. If you see that one of the companies that you already have a card with has a better card, you can ask them to convert your account to that better card.

Yes higher total limit does help your utilization ratio portion of the score. But there is some opinion that they also look at the utilization ratio per card. So hitting one card to nearly the max can hurt your score.

Three caveats about the number of cards:

  1. Some people like to have a card they use just for online purchases, that limits the damage if the card is compromised. I haven't done that but I sort of understand it.
  2. People who travel a lot for business and are not provided a card by their employer like to use a card just for business. It streamlines their process for requesting reimbursement. They always know that a charge on the card is business related, and that all business related expenses are on the card.
  3. A couple will frequently have Joint card, plus each person will have their own card. It allows easier allocation of expenses, and some ability to have some expenses kept out of view from the other person.

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