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Estimates indicate that the typical American carries between five and ten credit cards. However, the common idea that the more cards you have, the better it is for your credit score rating, is not always true. There is no correct number of cards to have so that you will be covered in emergencies or that will help you build a strong payment record. So, we cannot say you need just three credit cards to feel comfortable, because the amount of credit you can afford at the moment depends on how much you earn and how much you can afford to pay out each month.

Accordingly, it is a good idea to make an estimate of your income and the amount of credit you can afford to pay off monthly before you apply for a new credit card online. This will help you select a card or a combination of cards that is right for your individual situation and which will help you build a solid credit history.

Some experts suggest that the ideal debt-to-income ratio should be 36% or below after taking into account all other obligations you may have like: mortgage or rent, car loans and other debts. So take your time to sit down and calculate how much debt you can have to avoid exceeding this ratio. Bringing your spending into line with your income is an excellent way to ensure that you have the right amount of credit. Remember that with too many active debt accounts you may see your score drop simply because you are now at a greater risk of accumulating unmanageable debt.

It is also important to estimate how much debt you're likely to carry on each single credit card. The ideal amount of debt should be between 25% and 50% of the total credit line available, and if you carry any more, your creditor might perceive you as a default risk on your debt. This could also pull your credit score down by several points. Therefore, if you need to make an expensive purchase that exceeds 50% of your balance, it would be smart to split it between two or preferably even three card accounts. That's when it is useful to have more than one credit card at a time.

If you cannot maintain low or zero balances on all of your card accounts, then you have too many, and you should hold off on getting a new credit card. If you are late or even miss a payment on one of your accounts, your tardiness will not only affect the rate on that account, but may also cause an interest rate hike on your other accounts. This is a common way for Americans with several credit cards to fall into a debt trap.

So, the best way to protect your credit while maintaining quick access to money is to keep a reasonable number of credit cards. In most cases, two or three cards would be sufficient. One could be a store card to use at the merchant that you most frequently shop at, and another could be a major card such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover card. Nevertheless, if you have a number of card accounts at the moment and you can easily track, manage and pay them all, then it's probably the right number for you!