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TheStreet Open House

How to Tell If You Have Too Many Credit Cards

Stocks in this article: V MA AXP

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Are you too plastic for your own financial good? Although there is no magic number for the number of credit cards that should be in your wallet, some key questions can help you determine whether you're charging around town with more cards than you need.

According to recent data from Experian, the average U.S. consumer has about three open and active credit cards. Whether that number is too many, too few or just enough is really a question of how one uses and manages the accounts.

If you have the tendency to spend more than you have, you might need fewer than three credit cards or none at all, says Harrison Lazarus, a financial consultant and founder of Harrison Lazarus Advisors. On the other hand, if you spend well within your means, more credit cards could be good for you. "You will be able to access money when you need it, obtain fringe benefits like rebates and mileage, and improve your credit score," Lazarus says.

If you are unsure (or in denial) about your spending habits and general attitude toward credit, here are some warning signs you have more credit cards than you can handle:

1. You pull your annual credit report and find open credit cards you had forgotten having. Do you open a store credit card every time you hear the words, "additional 10% if you open an account today"? Do you mail back credit card applications in exchange for 15,000 or so bonus miles? Chances are you have credit cards lying around that you have not used since the day you gave in to their appealing introductory offers.

Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, says open accounts that you have forgotten could increase your risk of identity theft. Cards lying around could be stolen and used to make charges.

If you have unused credit cards that you do not want to close just yet -- more on that in a moment -- Griffin says it's best to lock them away or keep in a safe deposit box in your bank.


2. You are not paying your credit card bills on time. You know you have too many credit cards when you start having bill payment issues. If you own 10 credit cards, for example, and you use all of them, you have 10 monthly statements to deal with each month. "Having too many credit cards can lead to the lack of time and focus to ensure proper credit card management," says Kimberly Howard, a certified financial planner and owner of KJH Financial Services.

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