How many credit cards are too many?

Stack of credit cards fanned out

Whether you’ve got a deck of credit cards, or just a few, it’s tough to know which ones you should carry with you. Or if you should carry any at all.

If you have $1,000 cash and only plan to spend $100, it’s safer to leave the rest at home so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. The same can be said for credit cards.

According to GreenPath Debt Solutions, a nonprofit credit counseling agency based in Farmington Hills, Mich., in 2010 the average person owned 7.5 credit cards. And those seven plus credit cards all carry different balances and credit limits.

Just because you have the available credit doesn’t mean you should carry the card -- or use it.

In fact, if you own a major credit card (Visa, Amex, MasterCard or Discover) with available credit, you should leave all but the one with the lowest interest rate at home.

Save the others for true emergencies like fixing a furnace. That will help keep your debt-to-income ratio low, which helps keep your credit score high.

Carrying one -- or two at most -- credit cards also makes it easy to cancel a credit card if it gets lost or stolen. Toting around six or more makes it tough to remember which ones need to be canceled.

The exception to the one-card rule is if you have a gas or department store card that you use frequently -- and pay off when the bill comes. That is a smart second card to carry in your wallet.

Of course, if you choose the best credit cards to begin with -- with low interest rates and no annual fees -- you'll only need to own two or three.

Any other store cards should be kept at home in a not-too-obvious space. Not a desk or underwear drawer -- those are the first places crooks look.

Consider storing cards you don’t carry regularly in a family photo album tucked away on a book shelf, tucked in the back of a special photo on a shelf or in a fire safe hidden under clothes, in a closet, etc.

No matter how many cards you carry, think about where you’re going to use them before you swipe. Plan your errands and purchases in advance to cut down on temptation when you are out shopping.

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