Does Closing a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score?

Ever wondered what happens to your credit score when you close a credit card? It’s a question that pops up frequently, and rightfully so. In the world of credit scores, where every decision counts, understanding the consequences of closing a credit card is more important than you might think.

credit card

Credit scores are like financial passports, determining our access to loans, mortgages, and even the interest rates we pay. And yes, our credit cards are key players in this arena. They don’t just fund purchases; they also shape our credit scores and influence our financial credibility.

Closing a credit card might seem like a straightforward financial move, but its impact on your credit score is nuanced. It involves factors like credit history length and credit utilization – terms that are often thrown around but not always clearly explained.

Our goal is to shed some light on this. We’ll explore the ins and outs of how closing a credit card can affect your credit score, equipping you with the knowledge to make informed decisions. Whether you’re considering simplifying your wallet or just curious about the potential effects, understanding this aspect of credit management is essential for your financial wellbeing.

How Your Credit Score is Calculated

Before diving into how closing a credit card affects your credit score, let’s talk about what a credit score is made of. It’s a blend of several factors: your payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit used.

Each factor weighs differently in the calculation, painting a picture of your financial reliability. It’s like a financial report card, and every move you make either adds or subtracts points from your score.

The Role of Credit Cards in Your Credit Score

Credit cards are more than just spending tools; they’re key players in shaping your credit score. They influence two major components: your payment history and credit utilization.

Regular, on-time payments show lenders you’re responsible, while your credit utilization ratio – the percentage of your credit limit you’re using – indicates how reliant you are on credit. Keeping this ratio low is a sign of good credit health.

Impact of Closing a Credit Card on Your Credit

One of the lesser-known yet key elements of your credit score is the age of your credit accounts. Older accounts add depth to your credit profile, showing a longer track record of financial responsibility.

This is why the length of your credit history accounts for a substantial part of your score. It’s not just about how long you’ve had credit, but also the age of each specific account.

How Closed Accounts Affect Credit History

When you close a credit card, it doesn’t just disappear from your credit report. It stays there, aging and contributing to your credit history, but its impact changes over time.

Initially, closing an account won’t drastically alter the age of your credit history. However, as time passes and the closed account ages, it eventually falls off your report. When this happens, your credit history shortens, potentially lowering your score, especially if it was one of your older accounts.

Credit Utilization and Its Effects

One of the pivotal elements in your credit score is the credit utilization ratio. Simply put, it’s the percentage of your available credit that you’re currently using.

For example, if you have a credit limit of $10,000 across all cards, and you owe $2,000, your credit utilization ratio is 20%. This ratio is important because it signals to lenders how you manage your credit – lower percentages are generally seen as better, indicating you’re not over-relying on credit.

Impact of Closing a Card on Credit Utilization

Closing a credit card can significantly impact your credit utilization ratio. When you close a card, you lose its credit limit, which can increase your overall utilization percentage.

For instance, if you close a card with a $3,000 limit, your total available credit drops, and your utilization ratio rises, even if you don’t owe more. This spike in utilization can signal risk to lenders and potentially harm your credit score.

When It Makes Sense to Close a Card

There are times when closing a credit card might make sense. If you’re juggling too many cards and struggling to keep track of payments, simplifying your finances by closing a card can be beneficial. Additionally, closing a card with high fees or interest rates, especially if you’re not using it, can save you money in the long run.

Potential Risks of Closing a Credit Card

However, the decision to close a card comes with risks. The most immediate is the potential impact on your credit utilization ratio, as mentioned earlier. Also, closing an old account can eventually shorten your credit history, which could hurt your credit score. It’s important to weigh these risks against the benefits, considering factors like the age of the account and how it fits into your overall financial strategy.

Factors to Consider Before Closing a Credit Card

When you’re thinking about canceling a credit card, there are several key factors to consider. These elements will help you understand the potential impact on your financial health and credit score. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Age of the Account

The age of your credit card account plays a significant role in your credit scores. Older accounts contribute to a longer credit history, which can positively affect your credit score. Before closing a card, think about how long it’s been in your wallet. If it’s one of your oldest accounts, keeping it open might be beneficial for maintaining a more favorable credit history length.

Interest Rates and Annual Fees

High interest rates and annual fees are practical reasons to consider canceling a credit card. If you’re paying a hefty annual fee for a card you rarely use or if the interest rate is unmanageably high, it might make sense to close it. However, weigh this against the potential credit impact. If it’s an older account or one with a substantial credit limit, consider how its closure might affect your credit score.

Credit Utilization Impact

As discussed earlier, credit utilization – how much of your available credit you’re using – is a critical factor in credit scoring. Closing a credit card reduces your overall available credit, which can increase your credit utilization ratio. A higher ratio can be a red flag to lenders, as it may indicate overreliance on credit. Ensure you understand how closing the card will affect your utilization and, by extension, your credit score.

Credit Mix and Diversity

Lenders like to see a mix of different types of credit on your report, as it shows you can handle various credit responsibilities. This mix can include credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and student loans.

If your credit card contributes to a healthy diversity in your credit mix, closing it could make your credit report less varied. While not as impactful as payment history or credit utilization, credit mix is still a factor worth considering.

Strategies for Minimizing Negative Impacts

Deciding to close a credit card involves strategic planning to minimize any negative impacts on your credit score. Here’s how you can approach it:

How to Plan Credit Card Closures

Before closing any card, create a plan. Start by assessing which cards have the least impact on your credit history and utilization. Cards with high fees, higher interest rates, or those you rarely use, especially newer ones, can be considered for closure. However, ensure this aligns with your overall financial strategy.

Timing of Closing Accounts

Timing is everything. If you’re planning to apply for a mortgage or a car loan soon, it might be wise to delay closing any credit cards. Closing a card could temporarily lower your credit score, potentially affecting loan approvals or interest rates. Plan closures for a period when you don’t foresee needing a high credit score for major financial decisions.

Alternatives to Closing a Card

Consider alternatives like downgrading to a card with no annual fee or transferring the balance to a card with lower interest rates. This way, you keep your credit history and utilization rate intact while reducing costs.

How to Properly Close a Credit Card

Closing a credit card the right way is necessary to avoid potential misunderstandings or negative impacts on your credit report. For example, if you’re closing more than one credit card account, try to space them out over time.

That way, your credit utilization ratio won’t drop overnight. Each new credit card account causes a small drop in your credit score for about 12 months. So, if you intend to open new credit card accounts, try to spread them out.

It’s also important to avoid canceling a credit card account right before applying for a mortgage or other loan. Even if your higher credit utilization only drops your credit score a few points, it can greatly affect what interest rate your lender offers you.

The cutoff point for the very best rates is typically 740. So if your credit score is right on the line, even a minor change can cause you to lose the best loan terms.

Closed at the Consumer’s Request

Make sure to tell credit card issuers that you want your credit card to be reported to the credit bureaus as “closed at consumer’s request”. Credit card accounts should be closed by the person who opened them. It will hurt your credit score if it appears that the credit card issuer closed the account instead of you.

Furthermore, you should expect that a customer service representative will try to convince you that another credit product is better. Don’t give them personal details about your reasons for closing the account. Simply be firm about your intentions. Again, let them know you want your credit report to reflect that you requested the account to be closed.

Bottom Line

Closing a credit card is kind of like a financial chess move – you need to think a few steps ahead. It’s more than just cutting up a piece of plastic; it’s about understanding how that choice plays into your bigger financial picture.

We’ve discussed the ins and outs of how closing a card can impact your credit score, and it’s clear it’s not a black and white decision. It’s all about the balance – keeping an eye on your credit reports, watching out for those fees, and thinking about how much credit you’re really using.

So, as you mull over whether to close that card, remember it’s all part of managing your money smarter. It’s not just about the here and now; it’s about setting yourself up for a solid financial future. Be smart, stay informed, and make those money moves with confidence. Here’s to making decisions that keep your credit score happy and your financial stress a little lower.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a personal finance writer who strives to equip readers with the knowledge to achieve their financial objectives. She has over a decade of experience and a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.