July 14, 2021
For simplicity’s sake, having only one credit card that covers your needs would be ideal. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, according to Experian data from Q3 2020, Americans, on average, carry 3.84 credit cards.
Before you cancel your credit card, ask yourself if you really need to. Here are a few questions to consider when thinking about an account closure:
If any of these questions gave you pause, or you just simply want to cut down on the number of credit cards you own by canceling one or more of them, here’s what you need to know about the cancellation process.
It’s generally recommended that you keep at least one of your credit card accounts open and active. This is because canceling a credit card can affect your credit score.
Your credit report is made up of many factors, one of which is the length of your credit history. In a nutshell, your credit history measures how long you’ve had credit and how you’ve used it. Credit bureaus look at how long you’ve had each of your credit cards, and then they calculate the average to determine your credit age.
Cancelling a credit card, especially if it’s one you’ve had for a long time, can lower the average age of your credit (essentially shortening your payment history), which can have a negative impact on your credit score. If you want to cancel a credit card but lessen the impact, consider cancelling one of your newer cards. That way, the average age of your credit history won’t be affected as much.
Another important factor in your credit report is your credit utilization ratio. This is basically your credit card balance compared to how much available credit you have. So when you cancel a credit card, your credit utilization ratio can be affected by your available credit decreasing.
Let’s explain. Say you have two credit cards. On the first card, you have a credit limit of $12,000, but there is a zero balance on the card. On the second card, you have a credit limit of $6,000 and a $4,000 balance on the card. Between the two cards, you have a balance of $4,000 and a credit limit of $18,000, making your credit utilization ratio approximately 22%. But, if you close the card with a zero balance, you would have a balance of $4,000 and a credit limit of $6,000, making your credit utilization ratio 66%. Such a high ratio could negatively affect your credit score.
Credit Card 1
Credit Card 2
There are some possible risks to cancelling a credit card. But there are still some good reasons to do so, including if you:
If you’ve decided to move forward with cancelling one or more of your credit cards, be sure you have everything ironed out with the account in question. Here are a few things you should do before cancelling your credit card(s).
If the credit card you want to cancel has some form of rewards or a points system attached to it (think cash back, for instance), be sure to redeem those before cancelling the card. Once the account is closed, especially if the points are issued by the card company, you may lose any remaining rewards.
If the card you’d like to cancel still has a balance, be sure to pay it off before cancelling the account (or perhaps you could consider a balance transfer to another card you have with a lower interest rate). You may have to pay fees if you close the card before paying off all your debt.
One thing to be mindful of is residual interest, or interest that accumulates between the time the billing statement goes out and the date your payment is received. This is important, because if you forget to pay off the residual interest from the previous billing cycle before you close your card, you could incur the same fees had you not paid down your debt in the first place. Plus, late payments can affect your credit score.
Because of the potential impact on your credit score when you cancel a credit card, cancelling your newest cards first could help avoid any big change to the age of your credit history. Just be sure to double check how long you’ve had each of your cards before you decide to close them. Older credit is much better for your credit score than younger credit, so it’s best to keep your older accounts open.
Still want to close your credit card account? Here are the steps you should take.
Be sure you’ve paid down the amount you owe on your card and used any possible rewards associated with the card you want to cancel.
Depending on what your creditor allows, you can cancel your card by calling the number on your card or by going online. As mentioned earlier, this may be a good opportunity to double check if they have a no-fee option for you to downgrade your card to instead of cancelling.
When you contact your creditor to say that you would like to cancel your account, odds are you’ll be met with opposition. Your creditor will likely try to convince you to keep the account open, since it’s in their best interest to keep your business. But, if you believe this is the best decision for you financially, then stand your ground and insist on closing your card.
After you contact the credit card company, send a note detailing how you requested to cancel the account, and ask for a written confirmation from the company that the account has been closed. This is especially important if you made your request over the phone. If something goes wrong on their end and the card isn't cancelled, you’ll want written proof that you made the request.
About 30 days after cancelling the account, check your credit report to make sure everything was updated.
Once you’ve cancelled the card, don’t forget to dispose of it properly. Cut it up and throw it away.
Keep in mind that just cutting up a card or keeping it in a drawer without canceling it doesn’t mean it’s actually gone. As long as the account is open, it will be a part of your financial life and credit history.
So if you have one or more credit cards that you don’t want, follow the steps above to close the accounts properly.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.