Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty
  /  04.18.2022

For Financial Literacy Month, we’re taking a look at credit cards and whether or not having more than one works for or against authorized users. Truthfully, either option can be a bad look if you’re not executing the best practices when it comes to credit and warding off debt.

How a person opens their wallet and elects to wield plastic can definitely determine their credit score. When approaching credit card usage, a solid practice is to charge only items you need and anticipate you’ll be able to pay down swiftly. The more debt you accumulate, the less likely it is that you will be able to preserve a favorable credit score — regardless of the number of cards you own. A recent Experian pandemic consumer credit review found that the average American carries four credit cards.

Multiple credit cards are encouraged when used responsibly enough to maintain a low credit utilization ratio. A common misconception is that using one credit card will make a person appear more reliable to credit bureaus. Even when paid in full and on time, using a single credit card can weaken a person’s credit score due to a potentially high credit utilization ratio. Investopedia touches on this concept with the example, “If you have one credit card with a $2,000 credit limit and you charge an average of $1,800 a month to your card, then your credit utilization ratio — the amount of your available credit that you use — is 90%.” NerdWallet notes, “How much of your credit you have in use is called credit utilization, and people with the best scores tend to use less than 10% of their limits.”

Authorized users will inevitably be penalized for using the majority of their credit limit. If the mentioned credit balance had been spread between three cards, the user would be in considerably better standing within most credit scoring systems. Allocating that same balance over three cards reduces each card’s credit utilization, leaving an increased amount of available credit per line. Further, if a user runs a card’s balance up, it is more discerning to prioritize paying the balance down than closing the card and doing so later. Creditors prefer to see a lengthy history versus a brief span.

John Ulzheimer, a credit score expert who formerly worked for Equifax and FICO, recounted to TIME, “For a disciplined card user, there is no downside to having a lot of cards. But, there’s a downside to having too few.” One of the grandest hindrances surrounding a person’s credit score is owning multiple credit cards with high balances. Also, those building their credit should not attempt to open too many accounts in a short period. It is not advisable to file more than one credit card application every six months, noted the magazine per a Credit Card Insider employee’s advice.

Upon credit card approvals, users have the option to call banks to find out card-related procedures and request lower interest rates. Thus, it is acceptable to call anonymously and prevent creditors from running extra credit checks that might be unnecessary to safeguard yourself. Planning ahead can aid a cardholder in maintaining upward momentum on their credit score. Beyond reducing a credit card’s interest rate is the possibility of inquiring about adjusting its monthly due date.

Today, there are also universal credit card practices that help reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on an individual’s credit standing. Even so, “Disruptions have slowed large segments of the U.S. economy, spurring a recession … loss of income and uncertainty about the economy can quickly alter a consumer’s spending behavior, as well as how they interact with debt and credit,” logs the credit reporting agency’s “Consumer Debt and Credit” statement. Users should safeguard themselves by researching the fine print of a credit card’s contract before agreeing to its terms.

A potential credit cardholder may want to learn about the annual percentage rate (APR), for example. The Credit Cards website defines an APR accordingly: “The annual percentage rate is the interest rate charged on credit card balances expressed in a standardized [and] annualized way. This rate is applied each month that an outstanding balance is present.” Additionally, it is helpful to remember that a single credit card may have more than one APR when considering its transactional agreements, foreign currency exchange fees, balance transfers and cash advances.

Against case-by-case cardholder contracts, credit limits and repayment penalties are additional factors which can positively impact your financial standing. There’s the option to apply for credit cards with point programs that best align with your lifestyle, for instance. Credit card optimizers are most successful when they find cards that help them spend less money. Receiving rewards through a credit card for items you habitually spend money on is one way to make your balances work for you versus against you.

Also, forming healthy financial habits like ensuring your credit cards are paid off mid-cycle enables your utilization ratio to appear lower to credit bureaus at the end of the month.

Credit cards can be a useful tool, but The Simple Dollar website verified, “The average American household carries around $7,200 in credit card debt.” A leading cause of this annual figure’s continual increase is citizens’ struggle against inflation. However, cost-effective resources like Credit Karma are available in abundance digitally.

In our final suggestion, the finance corporation’s online “Using a Credit Card to Build Credit” section offers tips to those who may have compromised their credit scores through student loans and other debt — and it recommends secured credit cards as a solution. “Secured cards require a deposit, which is often refundable, that’s usually equal to your credit limit and will be used as collateral. Secured credit cards often have less-stringent application requirements than unsecured cards,” the site published. More directly, displaying good practices with one of these cards may be a means to acquire approval for additional cards following.




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