Canceling a credit card might seem like a good idea if you’re trying to get debt under control or you want to consolidate your cards. But closing a credit account may do more harm than good and damage your credit standing. Before you take action, here’s what you need to know — and other strategies you may want to consider instead.
Understanding the Impact of Credit Utilization Ratio
In order to understand why canceling a credit card can hurt your credit score, you need to know about something called the credit utilization ratio. This is the ratio of your total credit to your total debt.
Another way to think of it is how much of your available credit you’re using. For instance, if you have two credit cards with a total line of credit of $20,000 and you use $5,000 of that, you have a credit card utilization ratio of 25%. In addition to credit cards, your credit utilization ratio can include things like loans, such as a mortgage, car loan, and personal loan.
Your credit utilization ratio directly affects your credit score. In fact, it accounts for 30% of your FICO score. Your credit utilization ratio is the second most important factor in your credit score (payment history is number one). Ideally, lenders like to see a person’s credit utilization ratio below 30%.
When you cancel a credit card, you reduce your available credit, which can cause your credit utilization ratio to jump up, especially if you owe money on other credit cards. This can negatively impact your credit score.
Reasons to Cancel a Credit Card
There are several factors that may be motivating you to want to cancel a credit card, including:
• Too much debt. Perhaps having the card on hand is causing you to overspend and take on even more debt. If canceling the card will help you manage your finances better and get your debt under control, it can be a good option.
• A high annual fee. If the card’s fee is high and you aren’t taking advantage of any of the perks like travel rewards to offset it, you may want to find a card that’s a better fit.
• Too many cards. If multiple credit cards are causing you to stress out and miss payments, fewer cards might help lighten the load.
How to Cancel a Credit Card
If, after considering the pros and cons, you’ve decided to go ahead and cancel the credit card, here’s how to do it:
1. Pay off the remaining balance on the card, or transfer the balance to another credit card.
2. Contact the credit card company, preferably by phone. Some credit card companies allow customers to cancel online, but most will require a call. Keep in mind the company wants to hold onto customers, which could mean that they will try to entice you with offers or deals. You have the right to cancel at any time.
3. Consider sending written confirmation to make things official. Send a letter to the credit card company informing them that you have canceled the card. Post it via certified mail to ensure the company receives the letter with confirmed receipt.
4. Look for changes to your credit score. The canceled account should be reflected in your credit score within several weeks. AnnualCreditReport.com offers a free copy of your credit report once a year.
5. Cut up the card. Shredding or destroying the card helps prevent fraud.
Can Closing a Credit Card Impact Your Credit History?
Closing a credit card can affect the length of your credit history. That’s important because credit history is one of the factors used to help determine your credit score. In general, creditors want to know that you’ve had credit accounts over a period of time, so the longer the relationship, the better.
Recommended: 10 Credit Card Rules You Should Know
How to Downgrade Your Credit Card
If you’re considering canceling your credit card because of high fees or a high interest rate, you might want to downgrade the card instead. By downgrading you can swap your current credit card for one with a lower fee or lower interest rate.
Downgrading can provide some of the benefits of canceling the card without the negative impact of closing the account.
If downgrading sounds like a good option for you, these strategies can help:
• Research the credit card issuer. Do they have cards with a low or no annual fee? It may be worth switching to one of those.
• Call the credit card company and ask for a downgrade. They may offer to waive the annual fees on your existing card. Or they may downgrade you to a low-interest card with no annual fee.
• Ask about a partial refund. Some credit card companies will provide a partial refund on the annual fee, depending on when you downgrade. Ask the customer service representative if they can prorate the annual fee or provide any refund.
How to Keep Your Credit Utilization Rate Low
Whether you downgrade a credit card or not, it’s important to improve your credit utilization rate since it counts for 30% of your FICO score. Here’s how to keep yours low.
• Make more than one credit card payment a month. Making more than one payment per billing cycle can benefit your credit score. That’s because credit card companies report balances towards the end of the billing cycle. Making several payments can reduce your credit utilization ratio when your balance is reported.
• Keep credit accounts open, if possible. Keeping a card open, even if you rarely use it, increases your credit limit and helps lower your credit utilization rate.
• Ask for an increase in credit limit. If you have a record of ontime payments, your credit card company may be willing to increase the credit limit for your account. And the more available credit you have, the better your ratio. Call customer service to make the request.
Canceling a credit card can negatively impact your credit score, so make sure to consider all your options carefully. You can keep the credit account open, which can help with your credit history, and rarely use the card. Or you can downgrade to a card with a lower interest rate and no annual fee. In the end, the decision is yours, but it’s good to know you have choices.
You can track your credit score with the SoFi Insights money tracker app. It helps you stay up to date with any changes that affect your score, allows you to connect all your bank accounts, and lets you monitor your spending and savings all in one place.
How do I close a credit card without affecting my credit score?
Closing a credit card is likely to have a negative impact on your credit score. Downgrading to a card with a lower interest rate and no annual fee may be a better option.
Is it better to cancel unused credit cards or keep them?
If the credit card has a low interest rate and no annual fee, it can be better for your credit score and your credit history to keep the card.
Does canceling a credit card hurt your credit?
Canceling a credit card can hurt your credit score. However, practicing other good credit habits, like paying your bills on time, can help you gradually get back in good standing.
Photo credit: iStock/Doucefleur
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.