How to Cancel a Credit Card

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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 Q2 2019, Americans, on average, carry four credit cards. 

Before you cancel your credit card, ask yourself if you really need to. Here are a few questions to help you think this through:

  1. Does your card have an annual fee? Will you be throwing money away by paying to have it but not using it? Pro tip: sometimes your credit card issuer may have a no-fee version of a premium credit card. If they do, then it can be worthwhile to ask them if they can downgrade your card to the no-fee option. Downgrading can be a win-win in that you may no longer have an annual fee, and it won’t impact your credit score (whereas cancelling entirely may hurt your score).
  2. Are you concerned about your card tempting you to spend more? Does having more cards make you feel like you’ll wind up in credit card debt? If this is a trigger for you, then this could be reason enough to cancel. 
  3. Do you feel confident you can monitor the card regularly to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges on it? 

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.

What happens when you cancel your credit card?

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 reporting agencies 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, which impacts 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 the amount of money you owe compared to the amount of credit you’ve been given. When you cancel a credit card, your credit utilization ratio can also be affected. 

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 Limit

Current Balance

Utilization

Credit Card 1

$12,000

$0

0%

Credit Card 2

$6,000

$4,000

66.67%

Total

$18,000

$4,000

22.22%

When and why you may need to cancel a credit card

There are some possible risks to cancelling a credit card. But there are still some good reasons to do so, including if you:

  • Have a card with a high annual fee.
  • Are struggling to manage numerous payments and want to have fewer bills to worry about.
  • Want less cards so you can keep a closer eye on potential fraudulent activity. 
  • Are trying to reduce the amount of debt you owe; if this is the case, paying off the balance and then closing the card could help.
  • Have a promotional credit card with an airline or retail store, and you don’t use the card anymore.
  • Are interested in a new credit card, but don’t want to add to your list of cards and/or annual fees.

Before you cancel your credit card

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).

Use all your rewards

If the credit card you want to cancel has some form of rewards or a points system attached to it, be sure to redeem those before cancelling the card. Once the account is closed, especially if the points are issued by the card company, your rewards points may be gone, too.

Pay off outstanding debt

If the card you’d like to cancel still has a balance, be sure to pay it off before cancelling the account. 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.

Double check the age of your credit card account

Because of the potential impact on your credit score when you cancel a credit card, it’s best to close your newest cards first to 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 score than younger credit, so it’s best to keep your older accounts open.

How to close a credit card

Still want to close your credit card account? Here are the steps you should take.

Pay debts and use rewards

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.

Contact your credit card company to cancel your credit card

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. 

Stand firm

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.

Get written confirmation

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.

Check your credit report

About 30 days after cancelling the account, check your credit report to make sure everything was updated.

Cut up your card

Once you’ve cancelled the card, don’t forget to dispose of it properly. Cut it up and throw it away.

Anything else I need to know before cancelling my credit card?

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.

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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.