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When You Hit College, Is Three Still the Magic Number?

By: Larry Goldberg

Once you’re off to college, you’re off to credit land as well. You’ll be inundated with great student credit card offers the moment you hit campus, and knowing how many to apply for, how many to carry, and what the ideal number of cards is can be a little tough.


The simple truth is that nobody knows for sure exactly how many credit cards you should have, but there are several lines of thought on the issue.


  • Carry as many cards as you might need: This line of thought can get you in a bit of trouble very quickly. Some people carry as many as fifty cards in their wallets, and with fifty cards, fifty different credit limits, and fifty ways to get yourself in trouble, debt can take over fast. Many suggest, though, that having several cards gives you a stronger credit history, and while that’s true in some cases, lenders may also penalize you for having so many open accounts.
  • Carry one major card that will help get you what you need and be of use to you in an emergency: Lots of parents endorse this line of thought, as with just one account open, you’re less likely to find yourself with an overwhelming debt problem. The real problem with this line of thought, though, is that should you be in an emergency situation and need your card, you may be out of luck if the retailer doesn’t take that particular card.
  • Carry three to six cards in your wallet: Most experts agree that three can be the magic number, but be sure you’re carrying three different cards that will actually help. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover are accepted by most retailers, and choosing those to keep with you on a regular basis is a great idea. If you get stranded without money, a retailer is sure to accept one of your cards.


No Matter How Many Cards You Carry . . .

Whatever you decide your magic number of credit cards is, there are a few rules everyone should adhere to. First, don’t open store credit card accounts unless you must. Every time you open a store account, your credit score gets lowered. Second, keep your balances at only thirty-five percent of your limits. Any more than that can cause serious damage to your credit score. Finally, make your payment on time, and when you can, pay off the balance in full. It will give you a better overall credit rating, and lenders will be more likely to offer you more credit deals on things like home and auto loans.


Choosing the right number of student credit cards while you’re in college is a bit tough, but these tips should help. Do a bit of research before you apply for any credit card, and you’re sure to get products that will work for you on a long term basis. In the end, that’s the best way to get and keep a great credit score.


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