A Correlation Between The Number Of Credit Cards One Has And Net Worth

I believe the ideal number of credit cards is three or less as stated in my post, “How Many Credit Cards Is Too Many?” One of the main reasons for having three or less is so that you don't spend too much time chasing after rewards points. Once in a while is fine, but there is a law of diminishing returns.

If you use credit cards, be sure to use today's best rewards credit cards. They have the highest cash back percentages and the highest sign-up bonuses.

Tracking a large number of credit cards can hurt you financially and mentally. If you're spending time applying for new credit cards, researching, tracking, and canceling credit cards, you are taking away time from making more money elsewhere.

Your mind focuses on the small picture when it should instead be focused on the big picture. Furthermore, unless you are an organizational machine, you will undoubtedly miss a payment or forget to cancel your card before the introductory period is due thereby negating some of the initial sign up benefits.

Have At Least One Credit Card

A Correlation Between The Number Of Credit Cards One Has And Net Worth

Everybody should have at least one credit card for convenience sake. Having a reasonable number of credit cards helps you maximize the benefits and rewards.

Many credit cards have travel insurance which comes in handy when you lose your luggage in a strange land and need a place to stay.

Credit cards help build credit which is important for individuals looking to buy a home or apply for a coveted job. Buyers protection is also a great reason to have a credit card just in case you want to dispute a vendor.

The Irrationality Of Personal Finance

Given personal finance is pretty straight forward, I'm always curious to understand the kinks in rational reasoning:

Why do people get into so much consumer debt if they don't want to work forever?

Shouldn't people just try harder to get ahead?

If someone was a “C” student, why do they believe they deserve an “A” lifestyle?

Why not join a more lucrative field of work if you want to make more money?

If you could be warm all year round, why live somewhere you freeze for six months a year?

Why quit your job when you can get laid off with health insurance, severance, and unemployment insurance?

Why contribute to a ROTH IRA when the government mismanages our money?

The list of kinks go on and on and I find every single one of them to be fascinating! We all know what we should be doing, yet so many times we can't be bothered.

I've written about my own paradoxes by purposefully playing devil's advocate in order to find clarity e.g. The Dark Side Of Early Retirement. What kind of dummy leaves a multiple six figure job anyway? Ridiculous!

With credit cards, I've received a lot of push back from the community on why three credit cards is too little and why we should all be signing up for as many credit cards as possible since it's free money. One fellow blogger retorted on Twitter,

You have a lot to learn about credit cards my friend :) – guy with #23cards and a #730creditscore.. #neverbeendenied

I'm thoroughly impressed someone has time to sign up for 23 credit cards. But when the average credit score of a rejected mortgage applicant is 729, maybe not so much.

The purpose of my post on the ideal number of credit cards is not to see who can get the most credit cards. The goal of the post is to encourage people to utilize their time more wisely and look beyond the addiction of credit card rewards after a certain point.

Explanations For My Theory On The Number Of Credit Cards And Net Worth

I postulate the more credit cards you have, the lower your net worth and vice versa. People with a lot of credit cards are spending too much time trying to play the points and rewards game when they should be spending more time increasing their income. Here are three variables as to why.

1) Age

Young people have more time on their hands. When you have more time on your hands you tend to waste time with suboptimal activities such as spending time on Facebook.

Younger people appreciate a $100 benefit more than an older person with a family and a much higher net worth. If you're only making $15 an hour, the $100 in rewards points is worth seven hours of your working life! If you're making $100 an hour as a seasoned professional, then you really don't get excited anymore.

2) Education

If you aren't an odd duck who spends hours understanding what goes into calculating your credit score like me, then you have no concern for opening up as many rewards cards as possible. It's like never finding out what ingredients go into your favorite food.

If you knew how much buttercream went into your favorite cupcake, maybe you wouldn't eat it no more! It would be dumb not to open up a Macy's card which will save you 10% off your $500 purchase. But as you all know, there's a point of diminishing returns where opening up too many lines of credit begins to hurt your credit score.

The lower your credit score the higher the interest rate for bigger ticket items such as a home. The higher the interest rate, the less disposable income you have. The more education one has about real estate, the stock market, interest rate parity, and the make up of calculating a credit score, the less inclined they will be in taking out so many credit cards.

3) Discipline

The “spend more save more” mentality is huge among lower income groups who focus on quantity instead of quality. “Buy One Get One Free” is a staple advertisement ploy at places like Walmart and JC Penney for example.

Discount stores compete on VOLUME since their margins are so low due to price. Hence, their goal is to make consumers buy as much as possible, often times much more than they need. The more you cannot control your spending, the less you will have. It's been shown that cash payers spend much less than credit card payers.

Delayed gratification is one of the hallmarks of personal finance. If you crave instant gratification and are addicted to “freebies” then you have a higher tendency to open up multiple credit cards.

Bottom line: There is a strong correlation between the number of credit cards you have and your net worth, age, education, and discipline.

My Credit Card Example States The Case

I just look at my own scenario when I was in my early 20s. I had five credit cards because I made way less money, didn't own real estate, had a much smaller net worth, and valued $1 more than I do now.

Now that I'm in my mid-40s I've got three credit cards, one of which I just keep open and never use because I've had it for nine years. My other credit card is my corporate card which is a must for bookkeeping and tax purposes.

Perhaps I was able to get $1,000 a year in card rewards freebies when I was in my 20s. But if I had spent that time focusing on working harder at my job or coming up with a side business, I'd probably make 10X that amount because of a promotion, a good investment, or a great idea.

The goal is to get out of the small money thinking and get into the big money thinking. If you want to grow your wealth, you don't want to be hanging out with folks who keep thinking in emergency fund terms.

Time To Take The Anonymous Survey

Before clicking on your survey choice below, I'd like for all of you to think about whether there is a correlation between the number of credit cards one has and their net worth and why.  In order for this poll to work, please be honest. The poll is completely anonymous.

I've included three credit card numbers (1-3, 4-8, 9+) and four net worth figures (less than $75,000, $101,000-$250,000, $251,000-$500,000, $500,000+) for simplicities sake. The average income of readers here is between $70,000-$85,000 based on an old poll hence the $75,000 lower limit. While the average reader age is between 27-34.

I realize there are those with 0 credit cards and broke, and those with 20 credit cards and are multi-millionaires, but you're a rare bunch so please choose the closest answer to your situation. If you'd like to comment on your net worth feel free to do so as well.

How Many Credit Cards Do You Have And What Is Your Net Worth?

View Results

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Personal loan rates have come down significantly in comparison to the average credit card interest rate. Thus, if you have expensive credit card debt, consider consolidating your debt into a lower interest-rate personal loan.

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In addition, if you enjoyed this article and want to get more personal finance insights and tips, please sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. You’ll get access to exclusive content only available to subscribers.

Disclosure: Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS# 1681276, “Credible.” Not available in all states. www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org. 

96 thoughts on “A Correlation Between The Number Of Credit Cards One Has And Net Worth”

  1. You state, ““Buy One Get One Free” is a staple advertisement ploy at places like Walmart ”

    Publix is the land of BOGO. Walmart does not offer such things.

  2. Daniel Bannister

    I am somewhat of an outlier. I currently earn over 100k a year from credit card rewards.

    My salary from my job is a measly 34k a year and my wife earns 26k a year putting our total income earned from a job at 60k, close to the national family median.

    I have 13 credit cards and use them to generate tons of income. I discovered a product that merchants will purchase from me at close to the same price I buy it using a credit card. A light went off and bingo, a new business was formed.

    Technically, I’m a manufactured spending maniac. However, officially I own a reselling business that involves spending 500k a month on credit cards to get cash back points. In 2019, I expect to clear 100k in tax free profit from this side gig, I’m at 50k already.

    So credit cards are a huge win for me. I’ll be signing up for more soon.

    I have always saved 50% of my before tax salary and lived off 30k. My expenses are not going to rise and I’m saving every bit of this windfall and investing in rental property.

    O, and I recently started a financial blog, hopefully, that will eventually generate income too. Multiple income streams protect my ability to save, in case one dries up.

  3. I don’t think this poll really proves anything.

    My interpretation: Most people just prefer to have 1-3 credit cards. If you look at the survey…most ppl with more than 3 cards still have a high NW. For example, only 1% of the ppl with 75K NW have 9 cc as opposed to 13% of ppl having 75K NW and only 1-3 cards.

  4. My mom used to have about 15 credit cards, maybe even more and she’s never been good with money. Her wallet used to look pretty ridiculous with so many cards. I finally convinced her to close almost all of them which is much easier for her to manage now. I have three cards myself and am happy not having any more.

  5. Mrs. Enwealthen and I have 3 cards together:

    – the primary one we share
    – the second one is only for automatic charges (e.g. Netflix) to reduce headaches of changing card numbers on all our auto-debits when our primary card gets hacked
    – my old primary card from before the marriage that is rarely used and kept just in case.

    Anything more than that is just a distraction.

  6. Levi Blackman

    My credit score isn’t high enough yet to take advantage of reward cards. I have 1 credit card I am using to build some credit, and I am slowly repairing the mistakes I have made in the past. I plan on getting a few more cards once my credit improves to take advantage of rewards.

    I don’t think I would go all out and get over 20 cards like some other commentators, but I can see why you would. I mean it’s free money if you can keep yourself under control!

      1. Levi Blackman

        I’m not worrying about reward cards yet, just focusing on my credit. In the past I got involved in a credit card scam, didn’t pay off my first credit card, and some other issues with roommates. I am getting some of it removed from my credit report, but not without some resistance from the credit card companies, and am working on building up some good history. My accounts are all pretty new so it will just take some time.

      1. I’ve enjoyed well over 10k$ worth of cash and free flights/hotels over the last 2 years. Easiest money I’ve ever made. The ironic thing was I used to be a 1 CC guy until BOA cancelled my Schwab 2% cashback card. They created a monster.

        1. Here’s the thing.. if $10,000 is the easiest money you ever made in 2 years, it might be better to make more.

          For example, let’s say you had $1 million in the S&P500 two years ago, you’re up $300,000 now doing nothing. THAT is easy money.

        2. Martin and I had the same path. Schwab 2% card, happy as a clam. Once canceled two years ago, switch to AARP 5% card ($3K, cash rewards) for six months. End of six months I decide to get hotel points for when I visit my wife’s side of the family, open a Hilton Amex, found flyertalk. Since then I have applied (and gotten) 20 additional cards, redeemed a further 2K in net cash, $4K in travel (coach), and have a balance sheet with over 1.6M miles and points that I conservatively value at $19,885 (today). Just cashing in for cash and gift cards I could pull $3500 out tomorrow and that is just flex points, not miles or hotels.

          Easy, tax free money. I am 41, my net worth is $890K (excluding my miles & points), I have 22 cards in my name. My wife has two (under the CARD Act she was barred since she has no income, rule change becomes effective 10/29). I don’t pay to get my credit score but I have re-fi’d my house (Pen Fed 2.625% 5/5) and financed a car (Honda 0.9%) in addition to having 20 new cards added to my file. I am sure its in the mid 700’s, although worrying about a credit score is a fools errand if you pay your bills timely.

          I keep a spreadsheet, but I keep spreadsheets on many aspects of my like and have done so since I learned lotus 1-2-3.

    1. You’re implying perfect market timing which is a fools game at best. If you put money in SP500 over the last 15 years, which I have done, you’re basically back at square one. I’ve been decimated twice in total stock market meltdowns. The market presently is way above the Shiller P/e and is fully valued, or overvalued by any sane metric. So the simplistic “invest in the stock market and get rich” is a myth if you’re a generation Xer like me. We’re not even getting into monetizing debt and the other last ditch efforts of our fading empire to maintain the facade of true wealth. The market is about as stable as a house built of mathcsticks. I’ve been buying rental properties after being burned one too many times in the stock market.


  7. Many interesting comments here. I didn’t realize how serious of a hobby, credit cards are for many folks.

    I just don’t know how you guys can keep track of so many cards? Yes…I know……. Excell sheets…blaa blaa.
    But let’s get real: this is a hassle!

    Anyway, good for anyone, whom is successfully obtaining rewards through this activity. But still, wouldn’t stock or real estate investment research be a more productive hobby?

  8. I second Harry’s sentiment. I can’t reveal my income, but it’s just above the average American. I am putting time into earning more via blog and other online ventures yet to be named.

    Reading about deals is leisure for me. Some may read book, other’s relax by the pool, I love learning about travel deals. It just so happens that my leisure pays dividends, in the multiple thousands of dollars.

    I only started at the beginning of this year, but am on track to gain $6,000 – $10,000 worth of travel and cash rewards by the end of the year. I could try to go make the money elsewhere, but this takes minimal time and effort, and has MAJOR benefits. I’m taking a family of 7 to Hawaii for 10 days, including rental car (got a place through VBRO, cash back cards to pay for most of it). It’s a $7k – $10k trip on it’s own, and we would NEVER go, but my mother in law really wants to go out there for her 50th, and I was able to make it a reality. Great family fun and very little out of pocket costs.

    As Harry said, I have a simple spreadsheet to track it all, and have not been hit with any fees or interest, and my spending has not changed either. My wife and I have a credit score of about 760-770, and it has been on the rise other the past few months as I am not singing up for new cards until January. I leverage my score for travel and fun we would not otherwise be able to do, but my happiness is not predicated on these trips. They are just icing on the wonderful butter-cream cake that is my life, and I love all the ingredients ;)

    I currently only have 11 cards open between my wife and I, and probably won’t go too much higher than that.

    I’m 27, and my net worth isn’t HUGE, but I think it’s pretty good, and heading in the right direction. I have the ability to pursue all the things you suggested above, such as better jobs (working on that right now), more side hustles, and real estate (not quite yet). But I can also enjoy the perks of credit card rewards while the getting is still good.

    1. I like how you say it’s a hobby. I just caution folks not to take the hobby too far.

      I’m digging how you and Kim are taking $5,000-$10,000 vacations to Hawaii! Let the good times roll.

      1. Agreed. Anytime you make something an OBSESSION and it takes valuable time away from advancing your career or family time, you have gone too far. I spend maybe an hour or two a week reading (for fun, just like reading this blog), but mostly it’s a happy machine that keeps on pumping out rewards with very little effort.

        1. The only way a credit card can keep pumping out rewards with little effort is if you spend money on you credit card no?

          Or is there a rewards bonus for each time milestone you hold onto it?

        2. Depends on the card. But mostly you just move to another card once the bonus is up. I have two cards I’ll probably hang on to because they have award multipliers in certain categories, but the rest will just be signup bonuses.

  9. You are right on with your assessment and I think the poll shows that. As you make more and more money, the benefits from credit card sign ups will decrease since you are making more per hour that could easily outweigh the benefits of a sign-up bonus. Some commenters have alluded to the fact that one credit card only takes a few minutes to sign up and you have $500 in bonuses. The only problem with that is you have to use a variable pricing model as your # of credit cards go up.

    It is a lot of work to manage 23 cards but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I use a simple spreadsheet that tracks sign-up dates, anniversary dates, when the AF will hit, etc. I always setup autopay as soon as I get the cards and they get auto added to my Mint account so no need to ever worry about missed payments. And if you do get hit with an AF or late payment, you can always get the charges reversed by canceling the card or sending a quick e-mail btw.

    As for my credit score, 730 is enough for anything and everything except for a mortgage I guess. I already own one property but I am looking for another one in the next year or two so I will probably slow down to reduce my inquiries and cancel some of my newer cards to boost my average age. Those are really the only things that are affected by multiple apps though, which can be easily manipulated if you plan ahead. The # of cc’s(holding more cards that is) you have does not hurt your score contrary to popular belief.

    But for now, I can get a $2,500 hawaii trip paid for by signing up for a few credit cards. 5 days 4 nights in Hyatt Grand Kauai(1 night in a suite!), 2 RT tickets from Orange County to Kauai, and a rental car for 5 days. If I were to pay for that myself, it would be with after tax dollars and I’d have to make close to $4,500…F that!

    See you there in December?? I know how you love Hawaii

    1. Great point about AFTER TAX benefits! Didn’t think of that one. I think you are right about the sweet spot being sub $150,000 income, or maybe even sub $200,000 income and for those who have time on their hands.

      When you going to Hawaii? I think I will be in Oahu in December as well before Christmas!

  10. I liked this poll, however, my guess is that you have a higher percent of high income/high net worth readers.

    1. Hi Kristy,

      From the post: “I’ve included three credit card numbers (1-3, 4-8, 9+) and four net worth figures (less than $75,000, $101,000-$250,000, $251,000-$500,000, $500,000+) for simplicities sake. The average income of readers here is between $70,000-$85,000 based on an old poll hence the $75,000 lower limit. While the average reader age is between 27-34.”

      That said, I wasn’t too aware of the net worth aspect which I’m pleasantly surprised so far.

      1. Oops….missed that part of the post! Glad I still fall within the average age of the reader. At least until next week when I turn 35!

  11. Your results are skewed. Readers of a personal finance blog are going to have a higher net worth than people who don’t read such blogs. People who get by paycheck to paycheck and think they are doing everything right probably aren’t even aware personal finance blogs exist.

    Sorry, I really think this poll is meaningless.

    1. No problem. There are plenty of folks who believe people who read personal finance blogs do so to solve financial problems, just like those who read fitness blogs want to get in shape and so forth.

      What’s meaningless to you may be very meaningful to other people.

      What’s your age, NW, and CC amount? Thanks

      1. Just to clarify I did not mean that in an offensive way; I just look at it like I would look at a pole conducted at a hospital asking how people are feeling; off course the results are going to be skewed in the “not too well” direction.

        In any event, I take your point about people wanting to get better also reading these blogs, even if I still think your results are going to be skewed to represent financially minded people, not the population as a whole.

        I have 2 credit cards, a Fidelity Investment Rewards card (unlimited 2% back) and a Macys card. I never carry a balance. Net worth for me personally, not counting home equity or the wife (we keep finances separate) is approaching 500k, including the wife close to 900k, with another 350k in home equity.

        1. Shouldn’t your hospital analogy help prove my position that people in financial trouble go to financial sites for help just as someone who doesn’t feel too well goes to a hospital to get better? In other words, you are arguing opposite of what you said.

          I’ve always held the belief that there is more money out there than we can imagine. Due to big government and higher taxes, it’s more fashionable for wealthier people to conduct stealth wealth instead.

          Check this article out, “People Make Way More Than You Think” I wrote in 2011. Now increase those numbers by 10-30% on average now that it’ 2013.

          Forgot to ask your age.

        2. Im 36.

          My example was to illustrate that the polling forum can skew results. If the question is “Are people generally healthy?” and you conduct your poll in a hospital, the results are going to be off. Your poll question is about financial health (at least partly), and you are asking in a financial blog. Your results are going to be off.

          Just looking at them, currently 27% (23 + 4) of the responses answer >500k net worth. No way that is representative of the population as a whole.

          1. True, but like I said, I think there is much more wealth out there than we know. It’s all about keeping our money hidden from demonstrators and the government.

            Your roughly $500,000 NW ex primary residence at 36 is not bad. But practically every person I know in person who is 36 has over a $500,000 NW even, though my post on the average net worth by age has a 35-36 year old pegged closer to $300,000.

            Everybody likes to say OTHER people don’t save, don’t earn as much, are in financial trouble etc. The fact is WE ARE THE OTHER PEOPLE and it looks like most of us are doing fine. Are we to argue that only a national representation of statistics is the true measure, when I don’t live “nationally” but in SF, and you don’t live nationally but in wherever you live? I don’t think so.

            I can’t save, help, or interact with the nation. All I can do is do the best I can with the FS community.

    2. grr I can’t reply to your latest comment directly, so Ill reply here.

      I’m not quite sure what your point is. I only mentioned my NW counted various ways cause you asked.

      This article is about a hypothetical correlation between net worth and credit cards. I think with your poll you are trying to gather data to support or refute that hypothesis. My point is that any data you gathered is going to be skewed because your poll-conducting methodology is flawed, by nature of where you are conducting the poll. You poll suffers from both selection bias and confirmation bias.

      I contend that the fact that (as of now) 48% of poll respondents have a net worth > 500k is evidence of a flaw, because there is no way that 48% of credit card holders have net worth that high. You respond that everybody you know has a net worth > 500k, and that people have more money than everybody thinks. But again: 1) the NW of the people you know has nothing to do with the bell curve describing the NW of average americans, and 2) I would argue against the notion that there is a bunch of hidden wealth among people with less than a million dollars, but that is another discussion completely.

      Also, I completely agree with your hypothesis; I just don’t think you are proving anything with your poll.


      1. May I ask how you would conduct your poll for your blog? Please share the questions and variables you would ask so that it has meaning.

        The point of the NW is to show that more people have $500,000 in net worth than you might believe, including yourself, so don’t be surprised that so many people have over $500,000 in NW.

        Although the reality of my world and my numbers might not be real to you, they are real to me and the 350+ people who answered the poll. I wouldn’t so summarily discredit the realities of so many people. Of course this is not the experiment from the Science Journal Of America. I just encourage you to accept different variables and realities of people’s lives.

        1. Please don’t take my comments to be an attack against you or your blog. I enjoy this blog thoroughly, even though I don’t always agree with what I read. Also, I am not saying this poll is not fun and interesting. Finally, I am not an expert in polling or statistics, so I could be completely wrong. (But I don’t think I am)

          Let’s think about what you are trying to accomplish here. I am assuming your goal is to conduct a poll that identifies a correlation between CC number and net worth *among the general population (as opposed to readers of finance blogs)*. If that is your goal, then you need to conduct your poll scientifically. Also, you need to limit your selection/confirmation bias.

          I don’t think you can accomplish this by conducting a poll from a blog. Again, the venue for your poll is skewing your results because your readership probably has a high degree of financial literacy, which means your poll subjects are not typical (that is probably an interesting blog topic btw, Financial Literacy). In other words, your poll suffers from selection bias because your test subjects are not typical of the group you are trying to study.

          I think this poll suffers from confirmation bias because it is not detailed enough, i.e. you are setting yourself up to interpret your results as you want to. Case in point: currently the majority of poll respondents with >500k NW have 1-3 cards. You are probably interpreting that to support your hypothesis. However, you are not asking enough questions, and I would argue you are asking the questions incorrectly (although I understand you are trying to keep this simple; my point might be that there is no simple way to do this):

          1. You should ask about number of credit cards and NW in separate entries.
          2. You should be asking about the different details of NW and doing the NW calculation yourself (i.e., what is the sum in your checking acounts? Retirement accounts? How much equity do you have in your home? How much CC debt do you have? How much student loan debt do you have? How many times have you consolidated CC debt? — all of this to gain a more accurate view of NW)
          3. You are only considering CC, not lines of credit, home equity loans, car loans, etc..
          4. You are not asking about extenuating circumstances (high medical bills, etc).
          5. You are not asking about financial background, educational background, etc

          See my point?

          1. I see your point. But I did think you were a polling expert or social scientist given your comments.

            Can you point me towards an ideal poll in your eyes? I’ll see if I can mimic it.

            Finally, my main point as written in the article is the ideal number of credit cards is three or less and to encourage people to focus on big picture financials instead.

            Do you think this one poll distracts from the 1,500 words written in the article about my message? Imagine if there was no poll, could you better understand the play’s thesis? I’m always curious to know how readers react because I think one way and make assumptions which are often wrong.


        2. I am not typically a connoisseur of polls, so I can’t point you to any polls that I consider to be a work of art. :)

          I definitely got the gist of what you were saying. And I agree with the point that having less credit cards is simpler, at least for me. I actually think this is the knock-out statement of this article

          “Bottom line: There is a strong correlation between net worth, age, education, and discipline.”

          I absolutely agree with that.

          The whole thing about the CC and the poll might bring people off that point. And I’m not sure the number of CC one has is really a good indicator of financial health. I agree that having a bunch of credit cards can indicate bad things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean bad things. After all, if you have 10 CC but only use 1, you might as well only have 1 CC. Maybe the more interesting question vis-a-vis credit cards is how many credit cards do people use, and how does that relate to CC debt.

          In fact, upon further analysis the presence of your poll it seems as if what you really meant to say was

          “Bottom line: There is a strong correlation between net worth and number of credit cards.”

          which I don’t agree with.

  12. Sam,

    It looks like your theory is holding up. My question is how are you defining NetWorth?

    Liquid assets only? Or liquid assets + real estate? Or…what about people that also have pensions?

    BTW…. My apologies…. I don’t mean to complicate things…. Just wish a bit more clarity; and it might make for very interesting data. Folks whom are following this blog appear to be doing rather well.

  13. Lance @ Money Life and More

    In order for this to be a more accurate representation, you’d need to keep age in a set range. If you added that to the variables you’d probably get very different results.

  14. I think people who use more credit generally have less net worth, but I am not opposed to cards if you only buy what you need and pay it off every month. Having new credit cards does not make me feel like I need to spend more, been there, done that. It isn’t appealing anymore. You can’t work 24 hours a day, and it’s just as fun to figure out how to get a free trip for me than to watch a TV show. The other reason I enjoy credit card rewards is because I will probably never shell out for things like first class flights or 5 star hotels, at least until our mortgages are paid off. For the three of us to fly to Hawaii in first class, it would be around $2700, and I would never spend that, but we are going to do it next summer from rewards.

  15. Done by Forty

    I’m mostly just interested in seeing the data. I think a case can be made for either side of the argument. Studies on this front are amazingly few and most don’t account for the possible differences between cash & credit users (e.g. – are credit users simply more affluent, and that’s why their spending is higher?)

    I personally use 3 cards and one of them is for rewards, but I’ll admit that, like with most things, I’m probably not entirely aware of what’s optimal for my spending behavior.

  16. Sam,

    I think you’re missing a key question: how do you use your credit card? I am the (currently) only respondent with 9+ cards and 500k+ net worth. All of my credit cards are or autopay, so they effectively act like debit cards. I treat them as such and thus don’t run the risk of getting into credit card debt.

    Also, what purpose do the cards have for the user? For me, each card has a distinct purpose and is stored accordingly. Only 3 remain in my wallet: a gas card (3% cash back), a dining card, and a retail card. Splitting it up this way also makes tracking spending a piece of cake (and eliminates the need to identify “uncategorized” transaction in software like mint.com or personalcaptial). The other cards are for other uses (home improvement, travel, etc). Further, I designed a database (45min of work) that allows me to type in or say the name of the retailer from whom I’m purchasing. The database tells me which card to use.

    Given the assumption that I want to know where my money goes, the aforementioned methods (database and card use by transaction type) actually SAVE me time when compared to not using these strategies.

    1. Yes, good points Josh. However, if the survey holds up, your entry will be removed for analysis given every good scientist removes the high and low for better statistically significance. It’s important to compare against the overall picture and not just look at your own.

  17. You really need at least two credit cards, because some parts of the country won’t take certain cards as readily. (Discover, for instance. It’s not always very big in parts of Europe, either.)

    So if you carry more than one type, you’ve got options.

    I would agree, though, that the fewer the cards, the easier it is to keep track — and the less temptation to go ahead and put that purchase on the card, anyways, even though you can’t afford it.

    And my credit score’s in the 870 level, to the guy with 23+ cards…

    1. Gee, maybe I misread it…

      Oops (she says with a red face). Serves me right for blatting off my mouth. Just checked — it’s 792. But that’s better than 93% of other Americans. And we have been really, really careful to pay bills on time, with only a few slipups in 3 decades of marriage.

      Thanks for checking me on that one, FS. Apologies for the misspeak.

  18. Yes, there is an inverse correlation. Many years ago, I had a couple dozen credit cards (all fully loaded) and a negative net worth. Now I carry three cards (paid off every month) and have a substantial net worth.

      1. At the time, I was self-employed. I first had a few credit cards that I used normally, and also borrowed against a couple to use towards a down payment to buy a rental property. During that time, I was inundated with credit card offers with no annual fees and teaser rates, and easy to apply applications (I just had to check the box that said Yes) so I went ahead and got them, figuring I could use them as a large line of credit for emergencies. Some cards I even received without asking. If I had a VISA card, the bank would send me a MasterCard with a $5,000 credit line saying that if I didn’t want it, I could return it.
        To make a long story short, my self-employment income dropped to almost nothing for about nine months straight, I starting borrowing against cards to pay living expenses, thinking I would pay it back when things turned around. And I had to borrow to pay the monthly payments on the cards. The real estate market declined, the credit debt increased causing the negative net worth.
        One of these days, when I feel like opening up about it, I will write an article on my blog about how I got into that mess, and a subsequent article about how I got out without declaring bankruptcy.

  19. I am in the camp that if you extremely disciplined, hell have as many cards as you want. The reality is once your pile is large enough, you will want simplification in your life…not more crap to remember. For me any minor benefit doesn’t begin to move the needle from a stand point of making it worth my time, similar to a Mortgage…why have one if the 3%-5% spread you are going to “risk your principle to work for you” doesn’t change your lifestyle one bit. All it can do is cause drama.

  20. Mrs. Stewart

    Thank you for your recommendation of the Barclay Card. I got one and I almost have enough points to purchase 4 airline tickets for my family, just by using the card to pay my monthly bills that I have to pay anyway.

    I am working towards financial independence and I have 3 credit cards that I use, and I have another 3 credit cards that are open because they are the oldest reporting on my credit report.

    I also believe the more credit cards you have, the more suspectible you are to spending beyond your means. You are prone to have more emergencies, as a means to justify the spending. It does take a conscious effort, not to use credit for frivilous expenses.

    Just my 2 cents.

  21. I want to suggest another analysis variable / poll. I believe this matrix could be more meaningful if you add the Credit Card debt and annual interest rate (average).

    CC can work in your favour, for example I use my cards to get special monthly payments with no interest, really helpfull when the car need a change of tires or other $500+ expense. Also you can get other benefits according to the loyalty programs of your bank and the business you are purchasing from, such as upgrades in travels, extended warranties in electronics and vehicles, 2×1 movie tickets.

    So I have many cards and I might have CC debt if you see my net worth dashboard, but Im nor paying more (interests or annual fees ) and I’m getting some goodies that I really value (savings). Also working for a better credit report as the payments are linked to my check acct.

  22. Bryce @ Save and Conquer

    My wife and I have 2 main cards: An AmEx with 2% cash back, and a Mastercard with 1% cash back. The Mastercard is used at places that don’t accept AmEx. My wife also has a Discover card so she can buy “gifts” without me seeing her charges. We never carry a balance on any of them.

  23. I agree if one has 500k income, paying for first/business class seats and five star hotel wouldn’t be such a pain, and time and effort becomes more important. But as a lowly 120k income person, I need the airline miles to fly business class and let my family fly in business class. I also want to rather stay at park hyatt than holiday inn. I enjoy that. I have been able to do all this because of the credit card game. Yes, I am organized (it’s my hobby doing this) and you’d have to enjoy being involved in this game otherwise it’s too risky if you start missing payments etc.
    And the truth is this credit card rewards game is not sustainable if everyone starts doing it. We need someone who pays the bank credit card interest, annual fee, and so on in order for the bank to fund my business class tickets. So, if it sounds like a bad idea to you, you certainly don’t have to do it ;-)

  24. You created a net worth distribution profile of your readership (although it’s pretty much statistically insignificant). That could be helpful.

      1. I suppose that depends on your average uniques and/or returning visitors per article.

        Still, info that like is helpful to know/think about. Great info for things like ad sales.

  25. moneystepper

    I think the line would be fairly strange and more like a sin/cos wave than a straight line.

    People in debt have lots of cards, many people with low net debt have none, then people who use credit cards well have a fairly decent net wealth and lots of credit cards, and then finally very wealthy probably don’t have many credit cards (as the points rewards really aren’t worth their while).

  26. This fascinates me. I’m a zero credit card advocate, but I have one in case of emergency, or for putting purchases on that I’m expecting my company to reimburse me for.

    My thought is that all the rewards points are simply bait for you to use the cards. Like you say, worrying about the small stuff instead of increasing your income and managing your expenses.

  27. 1) On average your Thesis is most likely correct. I would be shocked if it was not. I would think there is published articles that would absolutely prove you correct.

    2). However, for any given individual they might have a high networth with lots or few or no credit cards. As I have mentioned a few times posts before, I go on a 5-6 week vacation every year to Asia or India. The coach airfare is going to be about $2,000 a ticket and the business or first class is going to be $10,000 a ticket. I would never pay to to fly in business or first class BUT I am willing to spend a small amount of time getting the points to be able to do this. This year we are going to taiwan and Japan in business class. Last year we paid for our fligts. 2 year ago we flew first class to Asia.

  28. Savvy Financial Latina

    We have 4 credit cards. One is a college credit card my husband never used. 1 credit card I recently opened, but I need to close it because I never use it. I think the best number is 3. 1 credit card where everything goes (Discover for us) and another for car insurance (VISA). If you have a small business then a corporate business card is your third option.

  29. I look at it this way. 15 minutes to fill out a credit card application, 15 minutes to scrutinize my monthly statements to make I meet the minimum spend requirements, and 30 minutes on hold to cancel a credit card. So, for about an hour of my time I can earn $500+. As long as my hourly rate at work, or in pursuing side income, is lower the credit card game is worth playing for me.

  30. You realize that applying for a credit card takes about 10 total minutes, right? As you don’t have a real job, I find your condescending attitude funny.

    1. No need to be nasty…

      Anyway, I think it’s less about the time it takes to apply, and more about the mental energy that goes into researching a card, remembering which card to use at which time and when to pay off each card, etc. That said, I’m one of those people in their early 20s with tons of time for such things, so none of that seems particularly onerous to me. I just like to keep it simple – two rewards cards (one for groceries, one for everything else) and one normal card that I keep because it’s my oldest line of credit.

        1. Now that’s a great NW growth rate! Any secrets to your NW growth? How old are you?

          I would love to get a consistent 1/3rd your growth rate. You’ll be a millionaire in 8-9 years without a doubt!

        2. No secrets other than what you already know about, low spending and high saving relative to income. 30 years old and expecting the 1 mil mark around 37 conservatively based on no increase in savings and 8% return.

          I wish I had done the math when I first started working, I would be much closer to the end of forced work and into what I like to think of as recreational work.

  31. I was going to write a comment about how I think the various ages will confound this pole, but I don’t want to be a hater. I’m curious about this, but I’m going to guess that most people regardless of net worth have between 1-3 credit cards.

    1. Age is definitely a factor as I wrote as the first reason for the correlation. Younger folks make less, and have more time on their hands.

      I’ve included three credit card numbers (1-3, 4-8, 9+) and four net worth figures (less than $75,000, $101,000-$250,000, $251,000-$500,000, $500,000+) for simplicities sake. The average income of readers here is between $70,000-$85,000 based on an old poll hence the $75,000 lower limit. While the average reader age is between 27-34.

  32. Frugal Sage

    I have one credit card. To be used in;
    – In case I forget to transfer enough money into my normal savings account.
    – Online purchases (great international exchange rate on it).
    – For insurance (automatic flight cancellation insurance)
    – Emergencies.

    I rarely use it and prefer to just use my savings account. I find I’m much more careful with my spending habits when I’m spending my own money.

    I believe there is a correlation between the number of cards and net-worth. Credit card companies aren’t dumb. They know how the game is played, and most people know how it’s played as well and yet choose to play it.

    Sure some may end up ahead by being stringent in their use, but people who constantly talk about bonus’s they can get on their cards are normally spending a lot on useless crap to receive those bonus’s.

  33. charles@gettingarichlife.com

    Sam there is a definite correlation with lower cards and higher net worth. Higher net worth are often rewarded with more perks, to build perks you need to favor specific companies. If you scatter all over the place you can never build that. When I was younger I was foolishly proud that I had $100,000 credit limit on 8 cards, today I only use two. The points I rack up solidify my upgrades with these companies.

    1. Charles, good point on concentrating points and assets. I really appreciate the service I get with my main bank. They are always response to my needs after being a client for 10+ years and taking out multiple products. Can’t concentrate too much though due to FDIC insurance limits. I have a post on concentration in the queue.

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