Having multiple credit cards brings certain benefits. On average, Americans use four credit cards at a time, often to take advantage of various perks and rewards programs. Another reason to own multiple credit cards is they can boost your credit score when managed sensibly.
That said, juggling credit lines can get out of hand, and it’s easy to fall behind with payments and face hefty interest charges. Here’s a guide to managing multiple credit cards: when to use certain cards, how to know if you have too many, and more.
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Steps for Managing Multiple Credit Cards
Here’s how to manage your credit cards wisely and the steps to take to avoid unnecessary interest charges and fees.
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Keep Track of Terms
Know what you are signing up for when you apply for a credit card. While a card may offer perks like sign-up bonuses, free vacations, and 0% interest rates initially, it may also charge high fees and exorbitant interest rates later on. Every credit card has different terms and conditions that are often buried in the small print.
Before applying for a new credit card, check the interest rate, or APR. Also look for penalty APRs, purchase APRs, and cash advance APRs. A penalty APR is charged if you don’t comply with the card’s terms and conditions. A purchase APR is the interest rate charged for purchases or carrying the balance over to the next month. A cash advance APR applies if you use your credit card to borrow cash.
A card may also offer an introductory 0% APR, for a limited period. However, once that period is over — or if you miss a payment — the interest rate can skyrocket. Many cards also charge an annual fee for card ownership, a maintenance fee, cash advance fees, foreign transaction fees, returned payment fees, and late payment fees.
If a card offers cash back, find out how much you need to spend to accumulate points or cash back. Check the fine print to find out what types of purchases are qualified and if there are any caps on earning cash and points. Also, read the rules on redeeming rewards, such as when they might expire or be forfeited.
For a sign-up bonus, you might be ineligible if you have owned the same card previously or another family member has the same card.
Pay on Time and in Full
You will likely incur fees if you miss payments due on your credit card. Also, if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card, you will increase your debt and pay unnecessary interest. But if you pay off your balance in full each month, you are in effect getting a free loan.
If you have multiple credit cards to juggle, it will take dedication to monitor the balances and due dates to avoid late payments, interest charges, and fees. However, managing credit cards responsibly can build your credit history.
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Set Up Autopay
Once you understand the terms, conditions, and payment due dates of your various credit cards, set up automatic payments to avoid missing a payment. Missing a payment will mean that you are charged interest, and depending on the balance on the card, the interest payments can be steep.
Managing multiple credit cards may require setting reminders. For example, if you signed up for a card with an initial period of 0%, you should know when that period ends. Also, keep track of when rewards expire, and when you should redeem points or rewards.
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Simplify Your Payment Due Dates
You may want to change the payment due dates for your cards to make budgeting easier. For example, if the payments for multiple cards all fall on the same day or week, it can be difficult keeping enough cash on hand.
Consider scheduling due dates close to a payday or soon after a direct deposit. It might take one or two billing cycles for your request to take effect.
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Know When to Use Each Card
There’s little point juggling multiple credit cards if you don’t use the right card for the right purpose. That’s why studying each card’s terms and conditions is crucial to optimizing the benefits of your cards. For example, some travel cards come with travel protections that will reimburse you if a trip has to be canceled, and co-branded airline cards may offer free checked bags or upgrades.
Keep a Record of Your Credit Card Features
Organization is the key to managing multiple credit cards. You can use a notebook, spreadsheet, or a personal finance app — whatever it takes for you to be able to access the information you need easily.
Some key data to have at your fingertips are the interest rate, credit limit, issue date, annual fees, and payment due dates, the balance from month to month, and the key facts about the rewards program (minimum spending limits, expiration dates, qualified items).
Give Each Card a Purpose
Allocating a purpose for each card will tell you what type of card you might want to get next. For example, you might have a card that offers travel rewards, another card for cash back on groceries, but you might want to also get a card that offers rewards for buying gas. Keep a record of which card serves what purpose.
Carry Only the Cards You Use
Don’t carry all your cards with you all the time. You risk losing them, and it will make your wallet uncomfortable! There’s no need to carry an airline card that you only use to book flights. Make sure you know which cards charge an inactivity fee, and set up reminders to use the card to avoid such penalties.
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Use an App to Track Your Card Balances
It’s a good idea to use an app to track your card balances. Apps are particularly useful because they alert you when a payment is due or delinquent. Some apps perform free credit monitoring, help you find a credit card for a specific merchant, and track your loyalty programs.
Signs You Have Too Many Cards
How many cards is too many? That depends on how well you manage them. Here are some indicators that you should consider closing some accounts.
You Can’t Pay the Balance Off Each Month
If you can’t pay off all the balances on your cards each month, you are in danger of falling deeper into debt and having to pay interest. You also risk increasing your credit utilization ratio. When your ratio gets too high, credit card companies may turn you down and credit checks for future employment may be affected..
You’re Missing Payments
If you find it hard to keep track of your credit cards, miss payments, or lose rewards, it’s a sign you might have bitten off more than you can chew. Simplify your financial management by choosing three or four of the most advantageous cards for your lifestyle and cancel the rest.
You’re Earning Too Few Rewards
If you rarely redeem rewards, it might not be worth keeping the card. Not only are you paying a fee for a card that gives you little benefit, but you also have the hassle of keeping track of the card’s features and balance. It might be best to nix these credit cards.
Which Cards Should You Stop Using?
When deciding which credit cards to stop using, list out the benefits of each card. Look at your spending history with that card over the past year and look at what you have gained. If you have spent little and gained little, it’s time to lose the card.
Similarly, if a card charges high annual fees and provides few benefits, don’t keep the card. Also look at the interest rate. If you have a balance on a high-interest card, pay off that debt and close down the card.
When Does It Make Sense to Close a Card?
It makes sense to close a card when you only use it to avoid an inactivity fee, if it provides few benefits, if the fees and interest rate are high, or if you are having trouble paying off the balance each month.
Having various cards can be advantageous because you can benefit from rewards and loyalty programs, build your credit history, and take advantage of interest-free credit if you pay off the balance each month. However, each credit card charges various fees, and managing multiple credit cards can be a headache.
When opening a new credit card, make sure the fees, rewards, limitations, and penalties that come with the card make sense for you. Also consider if you can manage the card and pay off the balance each month on time. Lastly, review your portfolio of cards regularly in case it makes sense to close down an account.
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How do I manage multiple credit cards?
Managing multiple credit cards comes down to organization. Keep track of all your cards and their various features, including due dates, what you should use them for, the rewards they offer, balances, interest rate, and penalties and fees. There are apps that help you to manage cards and monitor your credit score.
What is the 15/3 credit card rule?
The 15/3 credit card rule is a strategy to lower your credit utilization ratio. A credit utilization ratio of 30% or below makes you more attractive to lenders. Most people make one credit card payment a month by the due date, but with this strategy, a cardholder makes two payments each month, which reduces your credit utilization ratio significantly. Even if you regularly pay your credit card balance in full each and every month, you may still be carrying a large balance throughout the month, and your credit score may be affected.
How many credit cards is too many?
How many credit cards you should have depends on your lifestyle and how well you manage them. Feeling overwhelmed and making mistakes like not paying off balances on time are indicators that you cannot keep track of your cards. Other indicators that you may have too many credit cards are that you are not seeing much benefit in the way of rewards but are paying high fees, or you have a significant balance on a card with a high interest rate.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.