How many credit cards?
May 14, 2006 2:46 PM   Subscribe

How many credit cards do typical people have/carry?

For various reasons I have four credit cards. I always thought of this as too many, but haven't cancelled mine since the crappiest one is also the oldest, and has no fee, and I want to maintain the age of the card on my credit report. Most people I know have one or two cards. But reading online forums on credit, I see plenty of people with more than four. How many is normal? How many do you have?
posted by raf to Work & Money (48 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have 1... but I also have a HUGE limit. If I didn't have such a huge limit, I'd carry 2... maybe 3.
posted by bamassippi at 2:53 PM on May 14, 2006

Fair Isaac (the FICO score people) say: On average, today's consumer has a total of 13 credit obligations on record at a credit bureau. [...] Of these 13 credit obligations, 9 are likely to be credit cards and 4 are likely to be installment loans.
posted by zsazsa at 3:00 PM on May 14, 2006

I have one, and only use it for online purchases. In the real world I use a debit card or cash.
posted by afx237vi at 3:02 PM on May 14, 2006

Probably varies a lot by country . . . . . I had non in Ireland, four in the US and have onein Canada.
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:03 PM on May 14, 2006

I have two, one that I carry around with me, the other stays at home and is used for internet purchases.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:04 PM on May 14, 2006

Two. A visa credit card from bank A (big limit) and a bank debit card (which is also a visa card) from bank B.

No debt at all. No house either, though.
posted by bim at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2006

One credit, one debit.
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2006

1 with a good limit, and I only use it for the internet or security when travelling. And even then I pay the money back on straight away. Not a huge fan of credit.
posted by fire&wings at 3:07 PM on May 14, 2006

I have 3. I only carry two (plus a debit card). But I use only one regularly - the one that earns me frequent flyer miles. I keep the other two because one is my oldest credit history and the other has an attractive hotel points system. Most of my friends have a similar situation.
posted by mullacc at 3:07 PM on May 14, 2006

I have 4. First one is a miles card that I eventually realized was not a very good deal, and thus I don't use it anymore. Second is a cash back card that is a good deal, and thus I use it for all my charges. Third is an Amazon card I got for the $30 gift certificate and don't use. 4th is a Bloomingdale's card I got at the time of a major purchase because it came with a discount on your first purchase. Don't use that one either. No debt on any cards.
posted by epugachev at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2006

"On your first date, look at the man's shoes. Sometimes you can tell how much money a man has just by his shoes. When he takes you out to dinner, try to sneak a peek at his wallet while he pays for you. If he only has one credit card, BEWARE. It means he doesn't spend a lot, and worse yet, it could be a debit card. If he has more than four credit cards, that's a little fishy. The perfect number of credit cards for a man to have is... two. "
posted by sfenders at 3:13 PM on May 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ha, sfenders, that describes me to a 'T'.

I have one, and it is a debit card. If I don't have the money for something, I don't buy it. Simple as that.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:17 PM on May 14, 2006

That's hilarious, because I am probably the most free spending person I know (although I don't really spend that much as a % of total income) and I have zero credit cards and a pair of debit cards.

All that along with a sizable wad of cash.
posted by jedrek at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2006

I have one, and it is a debit card. If I don't have the money for something, I don't buy it. Simple as that.

You can have a credit card and still only buy stuff that you have money for. Just pay off your bill in full every time. I don't find it that hard. You might as well use a credit card and get rewards for the purchases you'd be making anyway. I get 5% cash back on groceries and 1% on everything else.
posted by epugachev at 3:40 PM on May 14, 2006

People are different. I'm not sure how instructive it is to focus on numbers. There are lots of people with zero credit cards because they are fastidious in their finances and only use debit cards or cash. Conversely, some people with no credit cards probably arrived at that state by having a history of terrible credit. And likewise, you will probably find a number of Mefites that have 5 or 6 credit cards but carry little debit, and use the assorted cards tactically but never incurring fees or interest. But there are also those with 5 or 6 cards, all maxed near the limit and drowning in debt. It's a whole spectrum.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:41 PM on May 14, 2006

Rhomboid, stop with your damnable "making sense" and level-headedness. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:48 PM on May 14, 2006

I'm with epugachev, carrying credit cards != carrying debt. I'm loving my 5% back on gasoline & groceries right now.
posted by knave at 3:58 PM on May 14, 2006

I don't think four is too weird. I set things up so I have one credit card on each network, each with a different reward plan. While Visa and Mastercard are pretty much identical these days, it's nice to have a Discover for Sam's Club or an Amex for Costco. When traveling, you'll never be caught out by somewhere that only accepts from one network. I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this.

IMHO, there are two types of people who have more than four or five credit cards -- the "deals" folk who get credit cards to try and get free rewards and play different cards based on special cashback or miles offers, and the "debt" folk who just have lots of credit cards because they maxed out the other ones and tried to get another. I've never heard anything bad about the first strategy so long as the credit line open isn't ludicrously high, but the second is bad for obvious reasons.
posted by eschatfische at 4:00 PM on May 14, 2006

One credit card, used only at times when a) the purchase must be made, and b) there isn't enough cash in my pocket to cover it.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:01 PM on May 14, 2006

One credit card, huge limit, cash back. One debit card that is also a credit card but which has never been used as a credit card. One credit card that has my name on it but that actually 'belongs' to my employer in that it is only used for official Gov't travel. Zero balance.
posted by fixedgear at 4:11 PM on May 14, 2006

one that gives money back towards the purchase of a car, large credit limit (that I never come close to hitting).

one that I use for online purchases

debit card that I never use.
posted by Lucinda at 4:20 PM on May 14, 2006

I've never heard anything bad about the first strategy so long as the credit line open isn't ludicrously high

I've always heard that too many credit cards can be bad for your FICO score, no matter how good you are about paying it off (and in that sense my getting an Amazon card just for a couple free books may have not been wise), but what I've never heard is how many is too many, or how big of a total credit line across all your cards is too big.
posted by epugachev at 4:21 PM on May 14, 2006

I'm intrigued by multiple people saying that they have a separate credit card for online purchases. I've never heard of this before. What is the reasoning behind this move? Some kind of fraud/ID theft concern?
posted by epugachev at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2006

I have two (and a debit card). One's a good cash back card that I use for everything, and I keep the other around because it's older.
posted by Sand Reckoner at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2006

I have one credit card - and I have it set up so the balance is paid automatically every month out of my chequing account. If I don't have the money, I can't buy it. BUT...I get killer airline points with my purchases. So I put a lot on the card and fly for free a lot.
posted by meerkatty at 5:02 PM on May 14, 2006

One credit card, for racking up frequent flier miles, and one debit card.
posted by falconred at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2006

I used to follow the "one credit card with a huge limit" strategy, until I found myself in an country that didn't take Visa. Yeah, an entire country (I think it was Slovenia or Croatia, this was several years ago, the situation's probably changed). We arrived on a Sunday and the banks were closed. We had no cash because I'd just been pulling local currency out of the closest ATM. Gah.

Another time I had my Visa locked-down due to "irregular spending patterns." Again on a Sunday. Took inconveniently long to straighten out.

Shit happens. One card is not enough. Now I carry the Visa, a MasterCard with a smaller limit (and try to limit Internet purchases to this card) and an Amex for Costco.
posted by zanni at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2006

I'm with epugachev, carrying credit cards != carrying debt. I'm loving my 5% back on gasoline & groceries right now.

It does if you know you can lack self-restraint. After a blow-out period of huge credit card charging in the late 90s, I went the direction of many others here - I only carry my debit card in my pocket and leave the (1) credit card at home.

I am finding I am needing my credit card less and less. These days even debit cards have protection against fraud - at least mine does.
posted by vacapinta at 5:05 PM on May 14, 2006

"How many credit cards do typical people..."

what's your basis of definition for 'typical'?

I used to carry 3 for various purposes. that was before my x and I pretty much cratered both our credit and landed us in nearly $100k debt. even after managing to disentangle my own finances from the bulk of his wayward spending habits it took me well over three years to dig out of my own personal financial hell.

I don't think my lack of planning, judgement, poor financial management or just blind trust in a partner who proved a poor financial risk is 'typical' but is it unique? I doubt that too.

I no longer carry, nor will I apply for, credit cards. it's not worth it, nor is it necessary particularly once I landed a decent job and got my savings account back up to snuff. I've not experienced any drawbacks living without one. I had no trouble financing a recent new car at a very low rate by the simple expedient of putting down a substantial downpayment.

I don't consider my debit / check card, because regardless of the 'visa' logo on it, it's only a fancy atm card. if the money's not there, it doesn't work.

how did our parents / grandparents get by in the 40's/50's/60's without credit cards? simple: they paid cash or did without.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:09 PM on May 14, 2006

I have no credit cards. I carry a debit card that also works as a visa. Of course, that's mostly because I don't qualify for the good credit cards.
posted by bingo at 5:09 PM on May 14, 2006

*Confessor shakes his head*

Credit cards are a poor vehicle for loans, but an indispensible tool for developing a good credit rating.

The trick is to *have* one, but not to *use* it capriciously, and to never carry a balance when there is any other alternative. Interest accrued through carrying a balance can quickly outpace the value of whatever rewards/incentives you may have earned through using it.
posted by The Confessor at 5:37 PM on May 14, 2006

I didn't mean for this to turn into such a lengthy response, but I it's an important subject, and I figured it I could shoehorn it into an entry at Get Rich Slowly!

According to How Many Credit Cards is Too Many? at MoneyCentral, "most Americans carry between five and ten credit cards". According to Steve Bucci at
The average person carries eleven "credit vehicles." Typically, seven are different types of cards and four are installment loans for cars, furniture, student loans or mortgages.
I heard recently that the average number of credit accounts was 12.7 per person, which is slightly higher than Bankrate's numbers indicate. The numbers I heard are closer to the average credit statistics at
On average, today's consumer has a total of thirteen credit obligations on record at a credit bureau. These include credit cards (such as department store charge cards, gas cards, or bank cards) and installment loans (auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans, etc.). Not included are savings and checking accounts (typically not reported to a credit bureau). Of these thirteen credit obligations, nine are likely to be credit cards and four are likely to be installment loans.
Perhaps of more interest to some readers, Nellie Mae has statistics from the year 2000 about student credit card use. Undergrads carry about three credit cards each and graduate students carry about four credit cards each. The credit trap begins early. also offers information about average debt load:
About 40% of credit card holders carry a balance of less than $1,000. About 15% are far less conservative in their use of credit cards and have total card balances in excess of $10,000. When we look at the total of all credit obligations combined (except mortgage loans), 48% of consumers carry less than $5,000 of debt. This includes all credit cards, lines of credit, and loans — everything but mortgages. Nearly 37% carry more than $10,000 of non-mortgage-related debt as reported to the credit bureaus.
Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN Money sees these numbers and concludes that the media is filled with alarmists. She recently wrote a column entitled The Truth About Credit Card Debt in which she attempts to argue that the U.S. is not filled with people struggling under the burden of too much debt. Weston says that one quarter of Americans have no credit cards. Another third of Americans do not carry a balance on their cards. She claims this is good news. And it is, but I think she's overstating the situation.

According to her own admission, 45% of American households still carry a median of $2200 in credit card debt. She also admits that debt burdens are climbing (she notes that credit card debt has increased 10% in three years), that debt-to-income ratios are near record highs, and that bankruptcies are at record levels.

Weston's broad point may be correct, but it minimizes the trouble that millions of Americans have: they're in debt, and deeply so. Credit cards play a huge role in the problem.

Most experts recommend keeping between two and five low-interest credit cards, and to pay them off regularly. Certainly keep balances below 50% of the max (for credit score purposes and for debt burden purposes). Personally (and I'm no "expert"), I think a person should have zero credit cards if at all possible. If this makes you nervous because you think you need one as a safety net, or if you know (not "think") that you're responsible enough to pay off your balance regularly, then carry one or two cards (preferably rewards cards that you pay off monthly). Don't carry more. (And if they're truly for "emergency use", make them cards that don't let you carry a balance.)

Too many people focus on credit cards with regards to credit history. The ideal — admittedly very difficult to obtain — is to live a life in which your credit history is irrelevant because you're not obtaining new debt (aside from a mortgage). I haven't carried a personal credit card in almost a decade. I don't miss it at all.
posted by jdroth at 5:39 PM on May 14, 2006

Oh, my apologies, I should specify: I'm solely debit card-based atm, but I may be applying for my first debit card as soon as next month...

I've done some damnably extensive research, though.
posted by The Confessor at 5:39 PM on May 14, 2006

How many credit cards do typical people have/carry?


Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day. (World Bank figures)
Apologies, this is probably perilously close to a 'wisecrack.'
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:13 PM on May 14, 2006

I have 1 credit card (Visa), and 1 debit card (also Visa). Both issued by my bank, and both affiliated with an airlines so I get FF miles whenever I use them. The credit card gets left at home, and only used when travelling, for online purchases, and the like. The bill also gets paid off each month.

So far, I only need 1 credit card, and the reason why I went with the one issued by my bank (Bank of America) is so that I could have overdraft protection. Never had more than one at a time, and until circumstances change, don't really envision needing more than 1 card.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:17 PM on May 14, 2006

I have four: Discover (used for work/reimbursable expenses only, good for keeping them separate from my other expenses), two that are tied to my two bank accounts and are easy to pay off just by transferring money into them and my Bank of America card that I can't get rid of because the picture of me on it is so weird. I use only one with any regularity and I don't carry a balance on any of them, ever.
posted by jessamyn at 6:41 PM on May 14, 2006

The trick is to *have* one, but not to *use* it capriciously, and to never carry a balance

LOL, I use my amex at every opportunity. I even stopped going to a gas station near my house because they stopped accepting it. But I've only carried a balance once in the 8 years I've had it. And I recently got a visa because, you know, places stopped taking amex.
posted by exhilaration at 7:12 PM on May 14, 2006

I have three plus a debit card. Two Mastercards, plus an AMEX gold that was my first from my parents. I never use it, I just like that it has a huge spending limit even though I dont want my parents to know what I buy.

Also, I think its not important how many cards you have as long as you're not crazy in debt.
posted by Number27 at 7:20 PM on May 14, 2006

I have two. One is a real dud though and only has a $250 credit limit that they never rased. LAME.
posted by delmoi at 8:14 PM on May 14, 2006

Two plus debit. One credit card is personal with very high limit (but carrying no balance), and the other credit card is business-issued -- Amex, not really credit, is it? :)
posted by intermod at 8:26 PM on May 14, 2006

Response by poster: So, a followup question: I've seen the nine-or-more stats that jdroth cited. Yet no one here has anywhere near that many, and I've never met anyone who does either. So what explains the discrepancy?

Possibilities I've thought of:

(1) There's a whole lot of people out there with lots of cards, and we don't have a representative sample.

(2) Maybe people aren't counting things like gas cards and store-specific cards? I know I don't have any of these, but other people must.

(3) Maybe people have cards listed on their credit reports that they don't consider "theirs"? Like spouse/parent cards where they're an authorized user?

(4) Maybe the credit-report stats are based on accounts that are open or closed? I have some closed accounts that would add to my total....

Any thoughts?
posted by raf at 8:45 PM on May 14, 2006

raf, I think a large portion of the discrepency is a combination of 1 and 2. These days just about every department store or large chain-store you walk into will not let you leave before trying to get you to sign up for a "store-brand" card. Most entice you with an instant discount of 10-15% off whatever you're buying. A lot of people sign up for these CC's with the intention of getting the instant rebate and then never using the card again.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:18 PM on May 14, 2006


Civil_Disobedient hits it on the nose, I think:

I think a lot of people carry department-store cards or gas-cards and don't remember to count those. It seems that every store I go into will let you sign up for an in-store card for use simply on their products. There does seem to be a swing in the last five years to store-branded Visa and Mastercards, but there are still a hell of a lot of store cards available.

In the small town where I lived until recently, there was a Shell station that for several years would only take cash or a Shell credit card. Bastards...
posted by jdroth at 9:46 PM on May 14, 2006

I don't know what is normal, but this thread gave me a pretty good idea. Me, I don't have any.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:27 AM on May 15, 2006

6, plus 1 business. 2 are store specific, one used just for fuel purchases. I primarily use one, which collects points (like frequent flyer miles, but can be used for a large number of things, including travel, electronics, other goodies). I never carry a balance on any, so from my point of view I get positive benefit from points AND additional interest gained.

Like many guys, I dream of the perfect, thin wallet with one card instead of this wedge I carry, but the flexibility is worth it.
posted by cptnrandy at 5:41 AM on May 15, 2006

2 credit cards, 1 debit card, 2 never-used store-specific cards, 0 debt.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2006

Hmmm... credit vehicles...

* 1 Visa debit card
* 1 Visa credit card (paid it off today! YAY!)
* 1 unused credit account at Amazon
* 1 unused credit account at CompUSA
* 1 Union 76 gas card, paid off monthly (when its used...not much at the moment, as Costco and Fred Meyer are cheaper than Union 76)
* 1 Bill-Me-Later 90 Days Same As Cash account with a new lens on it - will be paid off long before the 90 days.
* We might have some store accounts that are still open, but we have no balance on them.

The car is paid off, too. No debt!

I used to carry a Mastercard that belonged to my employer...but I'm no longer employed. :(
posted by lhauser at 7:45 PM on May 15, 2006

This guy is no doubt singlehandedly pulling up the average, weighing in at 1,497 credit cards. (As of the beginning of last year.)
posted by cacophony at 6:21 AM on May 18, 2006

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