Smart Money: Financial Hot Takes, and Too Many Credit Cards
Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.
This week’s episode starts with two hot takes from our hosts about buy now, pay later loans and credit reports.
Then we pivot to this week’s money question from Lauren, who left this voicemail:
“Hi. My name is Lauren, and I’m interested in getting into the credit card game. My question is, is there too many credit cards that one person can have? And if I wanted to open more, should I open them all at once or space it out? Currently I have two credit cards, one from college, which was my first, and the second that I opened about a year ago for better points. However, neither are super awesome. They’re both free, don’t have an annual payment. I’ve never had a problem with credit card debt. I’ve never even actually had credit card debt, and I pay both off in full every month. So I want to get some more credit cards from what I’ve seen on Instagram and TikTok to help get the full benefit of the money that I’m spending. But I don’t know how many credit cards is too many to have and how it’ll affect my credit score. Hopefully you guys can help me out.”
Check out this episode on any of these platforms:
Money hot takes
Co-host Sean Pyles’ hot take is about buy now, pay later — or BNLP — loans. Though they are typically easy to be approved for and don’t charge interest or late fees, Sean says that those features encourage overspending. The relative accessibility of BNLP loans may also cause consumers to take on several at one time, which can be difficult to keep track of. Sean recommends using a cash-back credit card for purchases instead.
Co-host Liz Weston’s hot take is about credit reports. Everyone has always been able to access their credit report for free once a year by going to AnnualCreditReport.com; however, the COVID pandemic prompted the three national credit bureaus to give us free weekly access to our credit reports through 2023. Liz advocates for this change to be made permanent. She also reminds listeners to make sure they are going to the correct website, AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than to another one that charges you for your credit report.
Our take on having too many credit cards
How many credit cards is too many? That answer depends on your ability to responsibly manage multiple accounts. Credit card issuers are not bound by any laws that limit the number of cards that any one consumer can have, so it’s up to you to determine where to draw the line.
Whether you have one credit card or 50, take some time to establish a system that helps you keep up with due dates, spending limits and rewards. Most issuers allow you to set up alerts that notify you of upcoming bills or when you’ve overspent in a certain category. Familiarize yourself with the card’s rewards structure, if any, and spend strategically.
An example: Say you have two credit cards, one that earns a flat 2% cash back on every purchase and another that offers 3% on gas and 1% on everything else. You’ll save more if you remember to use that second card at every fill-up.
Those who want multiple credit cards should know that applying for several cards at one time can lower your credit score — and your approval odds. Each credit application initiates a hard inquiry into your credit report, which usually hurts your score. And multiple applications within a short time may cause the underwriters to question your need for so many lines of credit. In general, NerdWallet recommends spacing out credit applications by three to six months.
If you feel that you have accumulated too many cards and want to downsize, it’s probably best to store extra cards somewhere safe or request a product change rather than closing the accounts. Canceling credit cards can increase your utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your total credit in use; lenders prefer utilization rates below 30%. They also like to see a history of responsible credit use, so hanging on to a card you’ve managed successfully for years means your credit report will reflect all that hard work.
- Go slow and strategize. More credit cards can be a good thing, but have a plan. Make sure you can manage adding one new card to your stable before you layer in more.
- Find the right card for you. Shop around for a credit card that suits your spending habits and goals.
- Use credit cards responsibly. Make payments on time and try to avoid paying interest, which eats away at the value of the rewards you’re earning.