There’s never been a time in the history of credit cards where consumers are presented with as many options as they have today. From six-figure welcome offers to bonus points on everyday purchases, issuers are competing for your attention — and your application.
Over time, you might find yourself in a swirling maelstrom of credit cards. We’re no stranger to this — Brian Kelly, The Points Guy himself, has 20-plus cards. In fact, the average number of cards on TPG’s editorial staff is 11 while Americans have nearly four credit cards per person according to Experian.
Knowing all of this, you might be asking yourself: how many credit cards should I have in my wallet? Simply put, the answer depends on a couple of factors that are unique from person to person.
“The ideal number of credit cards to have is the optimal amount to earn enough points and miles and access benefits to reach your travel goals,” says Matt Moffitt, TPG senior credit cards editor.
But how do you figure out your ideal number? To start, the ability to open a credit card is based on your credit score, income and employment status. From there, your average spend, rewards goals and travel habits can help determine which cards — and how many — are a good fit for you. Whether you’re a beginner or proficient when it comes to maximizing your credit card usage to earn rewards like points and miles, these considerations will guide you toward a number of cards you’re comfortable carrying in your wallet.
How many credit cards should I have?
If you want to earn points and miles redeemable for travel rewards, The Points Guy recommends maintaining between three and 10 credit cards. We know 10 cards can seem like a lot but having a couple makes it easier to combine rewards since many cards pair well together. For example, if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it only makes sense to add the no-annual-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card to your wallet to round out the so-called “Chase Trifecta,” maximizing the opportunities to earn and redeem your Ultimate Rewards points. Since all three cards earn the same reward currency, you can pool your points together and maximize their value.
Related: Best credit cards
Maximize your top spend categories
One of the main advantages of using a credit card to cover purchases is the ability to earn rewards. Even if you’re earning 1 point per dollar spent on your purchases, that’s a better return than using a debit card that doesn’t have a rewards rate at all. Just remember, any rewards that you earn will be negated if you miss a payment and owe interest to your credit card issuer, so be sure to spend responsibly.
If you’re good at paying your bills on time and in full, credit cards shouldn’t be a scary concept. However, it’s crucial to monitor your day-to-day spending habits and determine your top spending categories. When you know your main purchase categories, it’s easier to figure out the right number of cards for you.
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I’ll walk you through my situation as an example. As a New Yorker in my early 20s, I allocate most of my budget to rent, groceries, dining, local transit, a gym membership, my cellphone bill and online shopping.
Although startup Bilt Rewards is changing the game by offering a way for eligible renters to earn points (fee-free) on rent, I live in a pre-war building owned by one family. Since my landlord only accepts cashier’s checks, earning points on rent is out of the question at this time. Still, there are plenty of ways to earn bonus points on the rest of my expenses.
Some cards knock out two or three purchase categories at a time. For someone like me, the American Express® Gold Card is a great choice as it offers 4 points per dollar on dining and up to $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per year (then 1 point per dollar). Since TPG values Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, that’s an 8% return on groceries and dining that take up a considerable portion of my monthly budget.
I’ll need to spend a minimum of $3,150 combined on dining and grocery purchases each year to make up for the Amex Gold’s $250 annual fee (see rates and fees). Throw in the other benefits of the card, such as up to a $120 annual Uber Cash credit and up to a $120 annual dining statement credit on eligible restaurants, and this card is the ultimate choice for foodies. Enrollment is required for these benefits.
Next, as a Hyatt fan, I could pick up the World of Hyatt Credit Card as it earns 2 points per dollar on local transit and commuting as well as on gym memberships. With a reasonable $95 annual fee, there are plenty of other benefits of owning the card, such as automatic Discoverist elite status and a free night certificate for Category 1-4 properties on your cardmember anniversary.
When it comes to online shopping and other miscellaneous purchases that don’t fit under these other categories, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is ideal to sweep up those remaining rewards. This card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, no matter the category. Whenever I just want one card to bring with me, the Venture is my go-to since I know I’ll always snag a great return. There’s a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), but I also got my Global Entry application reimbursed with this card — a $100 value alone.
Another important consideration is looking into cards that offer cellphone protection, such as the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which covers theft and damage. Plus, if you pay your monthly cell bill with your Venture X, you’ll also earn 2 miles per dollar spent covering this bill.
This is just one scenario of how you could pick up multiple cards to help maximize your everyday purchases. There’s an infinite combination of cards you can open that will also offer great results depending on what categories you frequently use.
Review the types of rewards credit cards you want
It’s easiest to wrap your head around the credit card world if you compartmentalize each card type. In terms of rewards credit cards, you have:
It’s not necessary to carry all five types of credit cards. Instead, check out TPG’s best credit cards to see what they offer and how they might fit into your earning, spending and redeeming needs.
“I would say the average person could cover their bases with one airline card, one transferable points card, one cash-back card with different bonus categories for everyday expenses and one hotel card if they stay with a chain more than a couple times a year,” says Eric Rosen, TPG director of content. “Then, just consider the annual fees you’re paying to make sure you’re pulling more value from each card’s benefits than it costs to carry each year and voilà.”
When you stick to one to two cards per category, your life is much simpler. When you start to have a dozen (or more) credit cards, you start to spread out your rewards rather than focusing on a handful of powerhouse cards that earn points and miles. Even when there’s an enticing welcome bonus, think wisely about whether or not the card fits into your strategy before applying.
Ultimately, the cards you own will come down to preference: do you mind having credit cards from different issuers, or would you rather have your cards streamlined with one bank? Do you have a favorite travel brand and want to earn points and miles in that specific loyalty program? Or would you rather have a cash-back card for simplicity? These are important considerations that will help guide your decisions.
Don’t stress over missed opportunities
Once you get comfortable with your credit cards and remember the rewards rates attached to each card, you’ll get the hang of which card you should use to get your morning coffee, which to use for groceries and which card to use for booking flights. But if you accidentally use the “wrong” card for a purchase and miss the opportunity to earn bonus points, don’t fret.
This is an important guiding principle as you add multiple cards to your wallet. While it’s important to stay organized, if you forget and use a card that doesn’t earn any bonus points on gas, it’s not the end of the world to miss out on 40 extra points. You will still earn points rather than putting the charge on a debit card or paying cash and earning no rewards at all.
Tips for keeping up with multiple credit cards
It takes time to add cards to your wallet, so don’t worry if you haven’t reached the “ideal” number of cards yet. Once you do, though, below are some tips for keeping up with your multiple credit cards.
Create a mobile wallet
Whether it’s Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay or another form of a mobile wallet, you can load multiple cards on your phone to lighten up the load on your wallet. With issuers creating more metal credit cards than ever before, it’s nice to leave the cards at home (though they may look nice). While I still carry three physical cards with me at all times in case a store doesn’t accept contactless payment, my digital wallet allows me to rotate and use cards that don’t get as much love.
Download the TPG app
Sign up for our TPG app which is a game changer for the world of points, miles and credit cards. That’s because you can load all your cards to preview your spending and rewards rates, as well as see the various points and miles you own from all of your favorite travel loyalty brands. Among other features, the Award Explorer allows you to search award travel pricing and a curated home feed loads articles related to your preference and travel style.
Downgrade or cancel your cards
If you incrementally add cards over the years and find yourself stressed at the number of cards you have in your rotation — or you are taken aback by the annual fees you pay each year — consider downgrading or canceling your cards. These options ensure you’re not stuck with the same cards indefinitely especially as you become more savvy at earning cash back, miles and other rewards.
The ideal number of credit cards for your grandparent versus someone who’s remotely interested in accruing points and miles for travel will vary drastically. Even though my friends and family always gawk when I tell them I have eight credit cards, they’re all a part of my award travel strategy and long-term goals.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.
Additional reporting by Emily Thompson.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, click here.
For rates and fees of the Capital One Venture Rewards, click here.