Smarter: The Right Number of Credit Cards to Have

    Hand holding credit cards Photo: Getty Images

    How many credit cards is too many credit cards? I currently have two, but in a recent CR Instagram poll, most people said they had four or more. 

    This week I’m discussing whether it’s okay to have multiple credit cards and what’s the best way to manage them. Also in this issue: a flight with an impossible boarding time, a showdown between a door lock and a drill, and the answer to “Should people try parasite cleanses?” Just asking for a friend.


    THE BIG STORY

    ‘How Many Credit Cards Should You Have?’

    More than anything else, credit cards have always seemed to be a symbol of adulthood to me, a sign of “You made it. Now try not to mess this up.”

    And much like anything related to adulthood, credit cards fill me with the dread of fiscal responsibility. I’m often convinced that I’m doing something wrong with my credit cards. Do I have too many of them? Have I done something with them that might affect my credit score? What’s the best way to manage them? Here’s what experts have to say about these topics.

    Is it okay to have multiple credit cards?
    Yes, and it can be a great way to maximize rewards, says Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at Lending Tree, a company that connects potential borrowers with loan companies. For example, you could have one card that gives you extra cash back for dining and another that gives you extra cash for gas and groceries.

    But if you do have multiple credit cards, it’s important to keep the payment due dates in mind and always pay your bills on time, says CR money reporter Penny Wang. If you miss payments, you might get charged a late fee or your interest rates could go up.

    More From the Smarter Newsletter

    Is there a recommended number of credit cards to have?
    At the start of 2021, American consumers held an average of three credit cards each, according to the credit bureau Experian. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what’s the best number of credit cards to have, because a lot depends on your financial situation, spending patterns, and your ability to manage payments. 

    But as a general rule, Penny suggests that it’s helpful to have at least two credit cards so that you have a backup in case you lose one or your account gets frozen because you’re a victim of fraud. 

    What are the best ways to use credit cards to help with my credit score?
    An important part of your credit score is your credit utilization rate, which is the credit you’re using divided by credit available to you. You can find your available credit on your billing statement or by logging in to your account online or calling customer service. Many people recommend keeping this ratio below 30 percent. However, the credit bureaus say people with the best credit scores often keep it below 10 percent, says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at the personal finance site Bankrate.com.

    As an extra tip, you can improve your credit utilization rate by requesting a higher credit limit or paying your credit card bills early. That rate is usually calculated on your statement date, and you can bring it down if you make an extra payment or two mid-month.

    How can I manage my credit cards effectively?
    The first rule is to pay your bill on time every single time, Matt says. To avoid missing a payment, you can set up autopay so that you’re making at least the minimum payment each month. Otherwise, you’re risking damaging your credit score.

    Second, it’s important to be aware of any annual fees you’re paying for your credit cards, says Natalie Slagle, a founding partner at Fyooz Financial Planning in Rochester, Minn. If the fees outweigh the benefits and perks of a card, then that card might not be the best one for you.

    You should also use your credit cards according to the benefits they offer. For example, if you’re buying a new TV, it might be better to use a card that offers a generous extended warranty, even if that card doesn’t offer many rewards in the short-term, Ted says.

    While this might be a lot of work, some people may find it helpful to maintain a spreadsheet that lists all the relevant information about their cards, including annual fees, renewal dates, and benefits such as rewards, extended warranties, travel insurance, food delivery memberships, and so on to keep track of all this information. And it’s important to stay alert to any changes to your card’s benefits by checking the mail or email from your card’s issuer. 

    If you’re not really using the benefits of your credit card and you’re paying too much in fees, you can ask your card issuer if you can switch to a different card that better suits your needs, and ask whether the swap will hurt your credit score. If the swap is categorized as a product change, you can maintain your credit line and account history, and avoid having to file a completely new application for a card. For more ways to cut down on the costs of your credit cards, check out our list of money-saving tips.

    Bonus reading: Should you close credit cards you don’t use? Here’s our take.


    QUIZ

    Which option doesn’t help your dehumidifier run more efficiently?

    A. Freeing up space around it.
    B. Keeping the windows and doors open in the room.
    C. Cleaning the filter.


    NUMBERS GAME

    4.5 billion: In 2020, deliveries from Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and others emitted as much carbon dioxide as burning 4.5 billion pounds of coal (eeesh). To make your online orders a bit greener and cut down on emissions, check out a few steps you can take.

    12 percent: That’s the lower risk of death for people who eat about 14 ounces of fish every week compared with those who never eat fish, according to a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nu­tri­tion. And if you’re looking for fish rich in health-boosting omega-3s and low in mercury, just remember the very handy acronym SMASH (salmon, Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring).

    36 percent: That’s the percentage of Americans who plan to buy or lease an EV or are seriously considering doing so, according to CR’s largest-ever nationally representative survey. If you’re having a hard time deciding whether to buy a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, or a fully electric EV for your next car, here’s a detailed checklist of the pros and cons of each.

    And if you already own an EV, what are the things you had to get used to your first month driving it? Share your story with me for an upcoming Smarter issue.


    OOPS, THEY DID IT AGAIN

    In this month’s roundup of inexplicable signs and ads gone wrong, I present to you an impossible flight:

    flight boarding pass with boarding time that is after the flight departure time

    Photo: Charlie Kronvall Photo: Charlie Kronvall

    There’s something just a biitttttt off about this flight’s boarding time. 

    And there are other goofs that our readers spotted this month, including a vending machine that really doesn’t give you much of a choice and a bike tour that only billionaires will pay for.


    ASK AN EXPERT

    Reader’s question: 
    How can I prolong the life of my iPhone charging cord and prevent it from wearing down?

    Answer:
    Here are a few basic things you can do, says Rich Fisco, head of electronics testing at CR.

    Always plug and unplug by gripping the connector, not the cable. The connection between the cord and the connector is a potential wear spot, and pulling could break the cables inside the cord.

    🦶 Don’t leave the cord in a spot where it can be stepped on. 

    If you’re not using the cable, wrap it gently around the size of your hand. If you wrap it too tightly in a small circle, you might put a strain on the junction between the cable and the connector. And if you tie the cord into a knot, you risk breaking the cable inside.

    If you want to ensure the longevity of your other electronics, here’s our advice on how to prolong the life of your smartphone and your laptop’s battery.


    THE GOOD STUFF

    This door lock looks secure, but how well is it going to fare against a drill, one of the tools a burglar might use to break into your home?

    @consumerreports We subject door locks to the power of a cordless drill to find out which ones protect your home best. Our tests show most locks—except high-security ones—fall victim to a drill in two minutes or less. #doorlock #homesecurity #homesecuritycheck #drilling ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

    And in case you thought, “Well, no door lock can ever withstand a drill,” you’d be wrong.

    Unfortunately for door locks, a drill isn’t the only thing we put them through to suss out the best and worst among them. We also test them with a 100-pound battering ram.


    MUST-READS OF THE WEEK

    💰 7 Places to Put Your Cash Now
    In the period of inflation we’re in now, these are places to make money moves. 

    🚨 Vehicles That Cost the Most to Gas Up
    There are 10 models in our tests that now cost over $100 for a full tank.

    🧻 How to Fix Your Bladder Problems
    Limiting your alcohol or caffeine intake can help with leakage issues.

    📺 Cheap TVs That Aren’t Worth the Money
    They might cost less, but their picture quality is meh.


    THE (SLIGHTLY) SHORT ANSWER

    herbal supplement capsules on black surface

    Photo: Maija Dedovica/Adobe Stock Photo: Maija Dedovica/Adobe Stock

    Is a parasite cleanse worth trying? Nope, and you’re almost literally flushing your money down the toilet if you try it out. Here’s why.


    QUIZ ANSWER

    The answer is B. To get the most out of your dehumidifier, you should close all windows and doors instead of opening them, because dehumidifiers work most efficiently in an enclosed space. 

    Cleaning the filter regularly also helps improve the dehumidifier’s efficiency, as does freeing up space around the device so that air can flow freely in and out of it. And if you need a dehumidifier, these are the top three that performed the best in CR’s tests.


    Smarter Owl Icon

    "Drill, meet door lock. Door lock, meet drill."



    Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

    Pang-Chieh Ho

    I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."