If you believe that the first step to managing your credit is to simply close one or more credit cards, think again.
Unlike the advice offered by Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck to young salespeople, you should most certainly not always be closing! (Millennials: Baldwin reference is to Glengarry Glen Ross; Gen X: Affleck reference is to Boiler Room)
Let’s have a look at the relationship between:
- Closing a credit card and your credit score
- When you should or should not close a credit card
- If you’ve made up your mind, how to git-er-done (and yes, it requires more than just cutting the card in two with scissors.)
How Closing a Credit Card Affects Your Credit Score
To understand the impact of closing a credit card on your credit score, it’s important to know the different components that make up a credit score.
- 35% payment history. How reliable you are. Late payments hurt your credit score.
- 30% amounts owed. How much you owe and how much credit you have available, or your “credit utilization rate.”
- 15% length of history. How long you’ve had credit. Older accounts are better because they show you’re reliable.
- 10% how many types of credit. If you have a variety of lines of credit open, the better your score will be.
- 10% account inquiries. How many times you have or a lender has checked your credit background.
The main impacts on your credit score when closing a card are payment history and credit utilization ratio. If you stop using a credit card and stop making on-time payments to that credit card, that good behavior on your credit report comes to a halt.
Further, when you close a credit card, your total available credit goes down, and your credit utilization across all credit lines goes up. Lenders prefer lower credit utilization scores. This makes sense. If you’re maxing out your credit, there’s extra risk in giving you another loan on top of that. However, if someone uses just 10-30% of their total credit, they have plenty of breathing room and so they can accommodate any new loan payments, leading to a higher score.
To a lesser extent, history can be affected when you close a credit card. For example, if you close a card that’s been opened for many years yet keep cards that you’ve had for only a year or so, you might see your credit score dip.
If you were hoping you could close a credit card in order to “clean up” any bad behavior — perhaps you maxed out the credit card or skipped a few payments — you’re out of luck. Any negative payment history stays on a report for seven years. Closing a credit card neither removes it from your credit report nor removes any associated payment history from your credit report.
When You Should Close a Credit Card
Keep things simple
Sometimes you should go Marie Kondo with your personal finances and simplify things. If you have credit cards that you do not use stuffed into an old wallet sitting in your sock drawer, consider closing those accounts.
Good candidates would be retail store credit cards with small credit limits and zero balances, that you do not use currently or see a need to use in the foreseeable future. You may have opened these accounts to take advantage of a discount, say 20% off of a 60″ Smart TV, but since then, you’ve used cash. Close them.
Avoid high fees
If you’re no longer using airport lounges — and let’s face it, nowadays, who is? — it’s time to consider ditching credit cards that have a high annual fee of $400-$500 per year for perks you no longer use.
Aside from no longer needing the travel perks, the points might not make sense either because you might be shopping less.
However, rather than closing these accounts, you can benefit from calling the issuer and downgrading to a card with fewer perks and a lower annual fee (or perhaps no fee at all).
Not sure you have the flair for negotiating? No worries. Ramit has you covered.
Control your spending
Has your spending gotten out of control?
If you feel that the only way you can control your spending habits is to simply get rid of credit cards, then close your accounts. Your credit score may take a hit, but it’s more important to control spending, reduce debt, and re-introduce good habits so you can move on to Ramit’s 7 Big Wins.
When You Should Not Close a Credit Card
Timing is everything. While it might take less than 30 seconds to pay with a credit card at a store or on Amazon, it can take as long as 60 days for a credit card account to be fully closed out.
Do not close a credit card if in the next few months you plan to apply for a new loan, refinance a mortgage, buy a new car, or any transaction which requires the creditor to pull a credit score.
Closing a credit card can lead to a score drop, even if temporarily, so if you need the highest credit score possible, hold off on closing the accounts until you have obtained any new lines of credit you need.
How to Close a Credit Card
If you decide you want to close a particular credit card, follow the steps below to ensure that all runs smoothly and you’re not hit with any surprises down the road.
Step 1: Pay off your balance in full
This should be the first step when closing a credit card with the cred issuer. Get the balance to $0.
Some issuers allow you to close an account that still has a balance — you just can’t make any new charges while you pay off your balance. However, just pay it off so you don’t have to worry about balances or fees later on.
However, you could do a balance transfer on any debt that’s still on the card. Some people do this, thinking, “Oooh, I’ll transfer a balance to another credit card with a lower APR!” However, again, you really should pay off the card in full before closing it.
Step 2: Redeem any rewards or points
If it’s a rewards card, make sure you redeem any cash back or points/rewards before closing your credit card account. You guessed it: use ’em or lose ’em.
Check your account for some time before you plan on closing the account — about a month should be OK — to make sure you don’t miss out on any perks you may have forgotten about or any paments that might be coming down the pipeline. Make sure you don’t have automatic payments coming out for, say, Spotify or your gym membership.
Step 3: Cancel a credit card by calling customer service
Make a phone call to the credit card company and request to close your account. Though they’re convenient, please do not use those chatbots in the lower-right hand corner of the browser window. Also, don’t find the credit card companies on Twitter and tweet that you want to close your account.
When you call, keep in mind that the customer care representative will most likely try to talk you into staying with the issuer. They may sweet-talk you with special perks or reduced interest rates to keep your business. If you really want to cancel your card, be polite, but firm. (Remember, Ramit is all about negotiating properly.)
At this point, you’ll typically get transferred to someone at the bank that double and triple confirms you want to close the account. Go through the whole process, and make sure you note the name of the representative(s) you spoke with and the date and time of the conversation. Also, get the mailing address.
Step 4: Get it in writing
This might seem like something your grandmother might do, but get it in writing. Ask for written confirmation that your account has been closed with a $0 balance.
It’s imperative that you receive written confirmation that you closed your account in order to protect yourself against disputes or even mistakes on your credit reports.
If the issuer does not offer written confirmation, create one yourself. After the call, follow up with a brief letter stating your wish to close the credit card. Include that you want the account to be “closed at consumer’s request” and include your name, address, phone number, account number, and the details of your call with customer service (the name of the representatives you spoke with and the date and time of the conversation). As an added layer of protection, send the letter via certified mail so you can prove it was delivered.
Step 5: Wait and check
Whew, ok, time to chill for a bit. Wait a month (or two) for everything to process. Then, you will want to check two things.
First, check your credit report (there are three credit bureaus that track your credit) and make sure the accounts are listed as “closed by customer.” Credit reports are usually accurate but mistakes do happen that can impact you for years. Make sure nothing was reported incorrectly when closing your account.
Second, log into your online bank account or call the issuer to make sure the credit card still has a zero balance. Weird fees can pop up as the account is closing which will then accrue interest and more fees if they go ignored.
Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, you can finally take the scissors and cut up the plastic card.
Do you have a metal card? Here are 4 ways to dispose of it properly.
The Last Word
Know — and weigh — your options. Ultimately, it’s your call.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how many credit cards you should have or whether you even need a credit card at all. Remember that you build financial health when you follow your own money rules.