Walter Cavanagh has 1,497 valid credit cards -- all of which amount to a $1.7 million line of credit.
Currently, he holds the record for the most credit cards and for the world's longest wallet, which stretches 250 feet, weighs about 38 pounds and can hold 800 cards. But he keeps most of them in bank safe-deposit boxes.
The "Guinness Book of World Records" gave him the title "Mr. Plastic Fantastic," and he has been in the book every year since 1971.
It All Started With a 'Silly' Bet
"I got started in the late 1960s" Cavanagh said. "Me and a buddy in Santa Clara, Calif., made a silly bet: the guy who could collect the most credit cards by the end of the year would win dinner. I was fresh from the Peace Corps and I got 143 cards by the end of the year. My friend gathered 138. He's still a pharmacist -- like I was back then -- if only he had worked a little harder maybe he could have been the one here today."
With $1.7 million available to him at any moment, Cavanagh says his credit score is great. "It's nearly perfect. I have a nearly perfect credit score. I only use one card and I pay it off at the end of the month. But you should see the length of my credit report -- wow!"
He has credit cards from gas stations, airlines, bars and even a Texas ice cream store. They all have different limits. The card with the lowest credit limit would allow Cavanagh to charge a maximum of $50.
There are antique ones, too, that track the evolution of the credit card from paper to aluminum and all the way to the common plastic credit cards that we see today.
Awhile back, Cavanagh inherited a sterling silver credit card from the Mapes Hotel, Reno's first hotel-casino, which closed in December 1982. The hotel was a victim of declining gaming revenues and increased competition. The card is a collector's item, according to Cavanagh, which allowed, "unlimited credit privileges."
Only one company -- J.J. Newberry Co. -- has ever denied Cavanagh a card, and that was back in the early 1970s. Cavanagh had collected about 100 credit cards by that time. "They said I had too much credit," he says, "And to this day I don't have a Newberry's card in my collection."
If he is sent a rejection notice, Cavanagh will send the company a letter explaining his goal of continuing to hold the world record. He receives few such notices. If the cards aren't valid anymore, Cavanagh doesn't count them in his total collection. He assumes they are valid until he's told otherwise.
A Lifelong Commitment
When his credit cards started to pile up, a friend told him that he should send news of his feat to Guinness. Eventually, the British publisher accepted him, but by then, Cavanagh had realized that to keep his title, he would have to keep collecting. Copying whole pages from a directory of U.S. businesses, he mounted an application blitz and never looked back.