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Breaking up is hard to do, especially with a credit card. Here's what you need to consider



Breaking up is hard to do, especially if it’s with your credit card.

Since canceling a credit card can ding your credit score, you need to do so thoughtfully. Make sure you check your reasons, explore your options, do your calculations, and choose the right one to cancel.

All of this can be complicated and feel overwhelming because one wrong move could affect your credit score for years. That’s why we’ve made a list of things to know and consider before you sever the ties.

How can canceling a credit card hurt my credit score?

The main reason is because canceling a credit card affects your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you’re using divided by the total amount of credit that’s available to you.

“Canceling a credit card reduces your available credit immediately,” said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at comparison site Bankrate. “And because credit utilization is an important part of your credit score, having more credit and using less of it is useful.”

For example, if you have $3,000 in credit card balances and a total credit limit of $10,000, you’re using 30% of your available credit, which isn’t bad, he said. But if you cancel a card with a $5,000 limit, now you’re using 60% ($3,000 of $5,000).

“That could cause your credit score to drop,” Rossman said.

Why is a high credit score important?

Your credit score influences what kind of loan you can get, the amount of the loan and at what interest rate. The higher your credit score, the better the terms.

“It affects anything you want to purchase that’s of higher value like a house or car,” said Steven Conners, founder and president of Conners Wealth Management. “If you don’t have a good credit score, it will affect your lifestyle.”

Why do you want to cancel your credit card?

Why you want to cancel your credit card could determine your course of action.

For example:

  • If you simply want a lower annual fee or interest rate, instead of canceling, consider a product change. “That’s when you ask a card issuer to switch your existing account to one of their other cards,” Rossman said. “Maybe one with a lower annual fee, for example. Or a lower interest rate. Or something with rewards more targeted to your spending habits.”

If you switch to a different card, make sure the available credit is at least the same. “If the new card has a reduced credit limit, it could hurt” because your credit utilization rate might go up, Conners said.

  • If you’re getting a divorce, you’ll probably have to cancel any joint cards. Before you do that, make sure you have some good standing cards in your own name to help counter any negative effects canceling joint cards may have, experts say.

  • If you simply want to pare down the number of cards you hold, you’ll have to consider how your credit utilization ratio will change to decide if you want to cancel now, wait, or choose a different card to cancel.

Credit utilization is key

Credit utilization, or the percentage of available credit you’re using, accounts for about a third of your credit score. The ratio provides lenders an insight into how you manage your credit card debt.

If you regularly max out your credit cards or get close to it, it could show you’re having a hard time managing your money without accumulating debt. People may not want to extend more credit to you in case you don’t have the money to keep up with your financial obligations.

What’s a good credit utilization ratio?

There’s no hard rule on what the optimal credit utilization ratio is, but a “low” one that’s no higher than 30% but more than zero is best, financial advisers say. Zero means you’re not using your credit at all, which doesn’t give lenders any insight on how you would manage debt.

“If you carry balances, 30% utilization is the big thing,” Conners said. “Let’s say you have 25% utilization and cancel one with a high limit. It will push you over the 30% threshold and impact credit score.”

Age can matter, too

The length of your credit history accounts for about 15% of your credit score, so if you’re considering canceling a card, consider axing newer cards first. Canceling an old card could decrease the average age of your open accounts, Conners said.

But Rossman notes that people shouldn’t sweat age too much and instead, focus on the much more important credit utilization ratio.

“Positive account history stays on your reports for up to 10 years, so even cancelling a card won’t immediately impact things like your payment history and the length of your credit history,” he said. “Even closed accounts continue to age until they eventually fall off your report, up to 10 years for positive information and up to 7 for negative information.”

Leaning on credit: Why is credit important?

Is it bad to close a credit card with zero balance?

If it’s a newer card with a zero balance, it shouldn’t hurt you if you have low credit utilization, Conners said.

So if you’re tempted by discounts you can get on a purchase if you sign up for a credit card, go ahead. Pay the bill in full and then cancel the card, he said.

Is it better to cancel unused cards or keep them?

Whether it’s better to cancel old credit cards in a drawer you never use depends, again, on what your credit utilization ratio is, how old the cards are and what are their limits.

“Canceling an old card with a high credit limit is something that would hurt your credit” if you carry credit card balances, Conners said. “If you have a $20,000 limit and want to cancel it but have had it for a while, you probably want to keep it.”

But “if you carry no credit card balances each month then, you can cut as much as you want,” he said.

Potential fraud can also factor into this decision. “If you’re not in the habit of checking an old account and it’s compromised, that’s a potential risk,” Rossman said. Fewer cards could make tracking your finances easier.

But “the product change might be the best of both worlds,” he said. “You keep the benefits of the existing account and slant it towards some new benefits you didn’t have before.”

Spurned lover

Your credit card company will likely feel like a spurned lover when you tell it you want to break up. “Companies will try to talk you into keeping the card,” Conners said.

If you’ve done your homework and still want to cancel, just stay focused and don’t fall for the gimmicks.

Medora Lee is a money, markets, and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Canceling credit cards is harder than you think. Here’s why and how to

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