Jan 11, 2016

Question: What Would Your Credit Score Be If You Had 1,497 Credit Cards?

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I have to admit that as youngster, I had this incredible fascination with the Guinness Book of World Records. The siamese twins, the largest, the smallest, the oddest…the worn pages of our one family copy (we didn’t upgrade to the latest model when it came out every year) attested to its popularity in our household.

This USA Today headline brought me back to those days “Here’s a guy who has 1,497 credit cards.” Before I could say “well this must be in the Guinness…”

Walter Cavanagh of Santa Clara, Calif., holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of “Mr. Plastic Fantastic,” and Money revisited his story earlier this week. As it recounts, Cavanagh has 1,497 valid credit cards, adding up to $1.7 million in available credit. The wild stats don’t end there: His custom wallet, the world’s longest, stretches 250 feet, weighs 38 pounds, and can hold only 800 of his many cards, not that he carries them around: TheLos Angeles Times reported in a 2004 profile that all but one (which he uses and pays off in full in each month, giving him nearly perfect credit) are kept in a safe-deposit box. Cavanagh’s card collection started as “silly bet” with a friend nearly half a century ago. Whoever collected the most cards by the end of the year would win a dinner. The final score: 143-138 in Cavanagh’s favor.

Ask your students what they think his credit score is.  It may not be the answer they expect!

Here is my take on it going one credit factor at a time:

  • Payment history
    • Guessing that it is pretty good since he only uses one card and doesn’t have to keep track of the other 1,496
  • Amounts owed
    • The story states that he has $1.7 million in available credit and since he is only using one card, his utilization rate (credit used divided by total credit) is probably less than 1% or way below the 30% that is the generally accepted figure that you want to be below
  • Length of credit history
    • The article states that he has been the record holder since 1971 so he has more than a 45 year credit history
  • Credit mix
    • The article doesn’t describe other credit that Mr. Cavanagh has so can’t judge this
  • New credit
    • He seems to add a few cards every year which doesn’t appear to cause him too much of a problem since he keeps getting accepted

What’s fun about this is the knee jerk reaction would be to guess that he has a lousy credit score but looking one factor at a time leads me to believe that he actually would be in the good-excellent category.  Just don’t ask me to read his credit report!


About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

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