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Credit Card Diversification

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Thick stack of credit cardsIn a recent episode of the Personal Finance Hour, JD and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Liz Pulliam Weston about credit and credit scores. We talked about a lot of thing but one subject I wanted to repeat was that of credit card diversification.

Credit card diversification means you should have multiple cards from multiple issuers so that if something “bad” were to happen at one, you aren’t significantly affected. I have several credit cards for cashback reasons and they, by luck, happen to be from several issuers. I have an AMEX TrueEarnings, a Citi mtvU card, and several others I use infrequently. Why should you have several?

Unpredictable Credit Limit Reductions

With the economy reeling and credit card companies struggling to find a way to reduce risk, generate a profit, and avoid the gaze of the government, they’re doing some pretty shocking things. You probably heard about the story of Kevin Johnson, a 29-year old black entrepreneur with a perfect payment history and high credit score, who had the credit limit on his AMEX slashed. He didn’t miss a payment, with AMEX or anywhere, he simply shopped at the wrong place.

There’s also the practice of balance chasing. It happens when you make a large payment on an existing credit card debt and the company cuts your credit limit to just above what you still owe.

Overzealous Fraud Monitoring

In the episode, Liz Weston talked about how she once went clothing shopping and the fraud monitors at her credit card company froze her account for suspicious activity. She wasn’t traveling across the country, she was simply buying clothes.

Now imagine this scenario if you’re traveling internationally and you only have one credit card? We will be using a Capital One credit card, the cheapest and best international credit card for us, when we travel abroad but we will have backups.

Of course, one way to avoid all this is to live an entirely cash-based lifestyle.

(Photo: andresrueda)

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10 Responses to “Credit Card Diversification”

  1. Jason H says:

    I don’t buy it at all. Sure there are always some people that manage to get their credit limit reduced, but by and large why in the world would I want to have several cards in my wallet. And those suggestions to put them in a lockbox until I need them is foolish in my opinion. If I don’t need a card I cancel it, plain and simple.

    As for the fraud monitoring issues, when I travel abroad I call AMEX and tell them where I am going and for how long. I haven’t had an issue despite some very erratic travel around the US, Canada, and Europe the past 3 years.

    Of course your milage may vary, but my stance is why make your financial life any more complicated by adding credit cards that you wouldn’t use in order to be “diversified” in a consumer vice?

    • Glenn Lasher says:

      You, sir, have obviously never found yourself in the position I found myself in in 2005.

      I was traveling on business to Toronto. Standing in the lobby of the hotel, I found myself unable to pay for the room because something had gone wrong with the credit card. There was not nearly enough money in my checking account to cover this expense, and I was only carrying about CAD 245.00 in cash, again, not nearly enough. I began frantically making phone calls to people who might be able to spot me the money by giving the hotel clerk their credit card number. Do you know how un-nervingly difficult that is, and what an imposition at 10:30 at night?

      A colleague who was traveling with me picked up the tab on his card, but let’s get real here: what if I was traveling alone? How about the embarassment of the situation?

      I now have two major credit cards, not one. One is a MasterCard from a major corporate bank; the other a Visa from a very small credit union. I think that is enough diversity to keep me out of trouble.

  2. I understand the point, however, I don’t think it’s necessary to have more than 2 and the max maybe 3 cards for diversification purposes. The main reason I have more than 1 is because I primarily use Amex and not everyone takes Amex cards so it’s nice to have a Visa and Discover in my back pocket in case I can’t use the other one.

  3. Miranda says:

    In general, I think that diversification is important. Two or three cards from two or three different issuers is sufficient. And only if you can use them responsibly and don’t carry a balance. We have a card that we use for the airline miles (free ticket regularly), and a Upromise card that we have for my son (we add the earnings to a 529 that he has). In the end, a certain amount of diversity is important in ALL aspects of one’s financial life.

  4. Patrick says:

    Yeah, this is definitely important. I currently only own 2 credit cards and need to add another to make sure that I have proper diversification in case something like a credit limit were to occur.

  5. eric says:

    Yup, I made it a point to diversify my cards early on.

  6. joruva says:

    I live overseas, and Capital One is the best–no fees on international purchases.

    However, even after repeatedly stating that I live overseas, I’ve had my credit card shut off just about every other month. You would think that consistent unusual spending would be considered usual.

  7. Good advice! I also advocate diversifying bank accounts too. You need to have flexibility.

  8. mikvan says:

    I am all about credit card diversification; I have over 20 different credit cards; many from different banks. Note: I have yet to establish a foreigh credit card (issued by a foreign bank).

    You must take credit when you DON’T need it, becuase you won’t be able to get it when you really need it (loss of job, major expense…)

    I do rotate cards in and out of my wallet to help keep them active. I do have one primary VISA.

    It’s crazy to limit your exposure. You are doing yourself harm!


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