How Many Credit Cards Should a College Student Have?

Unfortunately, there is no standard answer to how many credit cards a college student should have — it all depends on many individual factors. Do you manage your money well? Are you interested in building credit? Could you benefit from specific rewards cards? Have you already applied for a credit card recently? These are all questions students should ask themselves before getting a new credit card.

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While credit cards give students the ability to build their credit, they also come with some pitfalls. Sure, multiple cards provide you with access to increased credit, but you run the risk of borrowing more money than you can repay. If you plan to maintain more than one credit card, it’s important to avoid overspending and make your payments on time. MoneyGeek recommends repaying your balances in full each month to avoid accumulating costly interest.

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MONEYGEEK’S TAKEAWAYS
  1. Student credit cards tend to be easier to qualify for than most other types of credit cards.
  2. Proof of enrollment is often needed during the application process to qualify for these cards.
  3. MoneyGeek recommends waiting six months between credit card applications.
  4. Building your credit with two or more cards is possible, provided you use them responsibly.
  5. Not using your cards responsibly can hurt your credit score.
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How Many Credit Cards Does the Average College Student Have?

A Sallie Mae report points out that 57% of students carry multiple credit cards, while 19% have only one card. In addition:

  • 64% of students have credit cards in their own names
  • 17% have cards with cosigners
  • 25% are authorized users of their parents’ cards
  • 28% have secured credit cards

Data released in an EVERFI, Inc. report suggests that just 51% of students plan to pay off their balances in full each month. About 47% of students surveyed said they are ill-prepared to manage their money.

How Many Credit Cards Should a Student Have?

There is no fixed number of credit cards that a student should have. However, it is essential that every student who does have a credit card remains watchful of their credit score and avoids carrying a balance from month to month. For example, a missed or late payment will remain on your credit report for the next seven years.

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EXPERT TIP

If you miss a payment by a day or so, call your credit card issuer to ask for the late fee to be waived. If they accept, it will not appear on your credit report. If you do not communicate with your issuer, they will mark your credit report as late. — Brett Holzhauer, Credit Card Journalist

It’s also crucial to pay attention to the amount you use from your cards’ credit limits — known as your credit utilization ratio — as this also affects your credit score. For example, if you have one card with a credit limit of $1,000 and spend $400, your credit utilization ratio is 40%. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the more positively it impacts your credit score.

Ideally, your credit utilization ratio shouldn’t exceed 30%. Using multiple credit cards can help you keep your credit utilization ratio low. For example, if you have two cards with limits of $1,000 on each, and you use them to spend $400 in total, your credit utilization ratio drops to 20%.

However, while multiple cards can help keep credit utilization low, students are better off using just one credit card in most cases. One card can help a student improve their credit while avoiding excessive fees or carried balances. Students can easily build credit by paying their single credit card bill on time and in full, rather than complicating things with multiple cards.

Pros and Cons of Multiple Credit Cards

Pros

  • Build credit by sticking to responsible spending habits
  • Earn rewards
  • Increase credit limit
  • Keep your credit utilization ratio low

Cons

  • Potential to incur debt you cannot repay
  • Adverse effect on your credit score
  • Difficult to keep track of and manage multiple due dates

Can Multiple Credit Cards Help or Harm Your Credit Score as a Student?

Having multiple credit cards can help or harm your credit score, depending on how you use them. Aspects that affect your credit score include your payment history, the amount you owe, the length of your credit history and the types of credit you have.

Keep in mind that your credit score has a bearing on your success in applying for a housing lease, auto loan or mortgage. Good to excellent credit scores increase the possibility of your application’s approval, while a low credit score could lower your chances or result in higher-than-usual interest rates. In some cases, employers may check a potential candidate’s credit score before hiring them.

The majority of all credit decisions made in the U.S. rely on FICO scores that range from 300 to 850. Scores over 740 are considered to be high, and scores below 580 are viewed as low.

How Multiple Accounts Can Impact Your Credit

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If you have multiple cards and have trouble keeping up with your payments, your credit score is likely to drop. Additionally, every time you apply for a credit card, the card issuer runs a credit check, which can bring down your credit score. Having multiple credit cards will also reduce the length of your credit history because your credit score factors in the average time period of your credit instead of your oldest account’s age. As a result, each new card you open brings down your credit history’s average length.
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If you handle your finances responsibly and make your payments on time, you can expect to build a strong credit score with more than one credit card. In this case, having multiple cards can help you maintain a good credit utilization ratio, improving your overall score. Using many cards responsibly also bodes well in the eyes of lenders you might approach in the future for an auto loan, lease or mortgage.

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To avoid relying on credit cards to pay for daily expenses, consider seeking financial aid through grants, loans and scholarships provided by the federal government, state governments, educational institutions and private organizations.

Tips for Determining How Many Credit Cards You May Need

When determining what credit card a college student should get, it’s crucial to consider many different factors. Here are some questions we recommend you ask yourself to narrow down the cards that’ll work best for you:

  • Do you spend a lot of money? If so, getting a rewards card might work well for you.
  • Do you have bad financial habits? In this case, consider getting a secured credit card so you won’t be able to overspend.
  • Will you be traveling internationally? If so, you could benefit from a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
  • Do you want to avoid paying a yearly fee? If yes, consider getting a no annual fee card.

Factors to Consider When Applying for a Credit Card

Whether you want to take out one or multiple credit cards, consider these pieces of information before applying:

  • The fine print. Be sure to understand key pieces of information about a potential credit card before applying. For example, the annual percentage rate (APR) refers to the interest that a credit card charges. In most cases, the APR on purchases is lower than the APR on cash advances. Late payment and returned check fees can also be upward of $40 and vary from one card to another.
  • The types of card(s) you want. If you wish to capitalize on your spending, you might benefit from a rewards card. Some student cards offer higher rewards when you spend on specific categories. If you’re having trouble qualifying for a conventional student card, you may consider getting a secured card by paying a deposit. If you wish to transfer an outstanding balance from a card with a high APR to save on interest, a balance transfer card might be in order.
  • The potential affect on credit score. If you have just one credit card, you essentially have a thin credit file, making it hard for a lender to determine your creditworthiness. Having more than one credit card increases your credit limit while giving you the means to maintain a low credit utilization ratio. However, applying for multiple cards in quick succession hurts your credit score, as does keeping an outstanding balance from month to month. While waiting for at least 90 days between applications is the way to go, it’s even better to wait six months.

Tips for Managing Multiple Credit Cards

Managing multiple credit card accounts can be straightforward, provided you know what to do.

  • Tip 1. Keep track of your payment due dates.
  • Tip 2. Try to pay off your balances in full each month to avoid paying interest.
  • Tip 3. Avoid cards with annual fees.
  • Tip 4. Use your rewards cards strategically.
  • Tip 5. Monitor your expenses regularly.
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MONEYGEEK EXPERT TIP

If you want to really maximize multiple credit cards, start off slow and build your way up to a larger portfolio of cards. It is not unrealistic to have 10+ credit cards with revolving credit and a great credit score. The best way to optimize your rewards is to maintain healthy spending and pay off your balance each month. — Brett Holzhauer, Credit Card Journalist

Other Questions You May Have About Student Credit Cards

The answers to these commonly asked questions about student credit cards can help you navigate managing multiple credit cards or deciding which are best for you.

Next Steps

Take time to understand how you might benefit from different types of credit cards. Once you’ve narrowed down what you want in a card, be sure to compare multiple cards across parameters such as APR, fees and perks before applying.

Compare & Review Credit Cards

MoneyGeek simplifies how readers look for credit cards that best suit their financial goals and spending habits. To provide the best information, our experts review and analyze the spending trends of students based on data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). We also stay up-to-date on the offers, rates and fees of more than 80 student credit cards.

Learn More About Student Credit Cards

The MoneyGeek editorial team follows the most up-and-coming financial trends surrounding student credit cards. We strive to answer all questions that readers ask so they can make informed decisions about which cards to select and how to best use them.

About the Author


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Rajiv Baniwal has been writing about different financial topics for over 15 years. Meticulous in his research, he makes sure he provides accurate and up-to-date information. His areas of expertise include mortgages, personal loans, credit cards, insurance and international money transfers.


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*Rates or fees may vary or include specific stipulations. We recommend visiting the card issuer’s website for the most up-to-date information available.
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