From the time we start building credit in our late teens or early 20s, many of us start collecting credit cards. Those credit cards inevitably begin to pile up, quickly overtaking even the most robust wallet.
By the time you can hardly sit for the bulk of your billfold, the idea of canceling a card or two starts to look pretty good. Even if your card collection has maintained a manageable size, you may need to consider whether it’s time for an upgrade; as your credit grows and financial needs change over time, your old cards may not be the best fit anymore.
For the most part, an unused credit card does little more harm than take up a slot in your wallet, and it may actually be helping your credit. That being said, there are two important reasons you may want to consider canceling a credit card: high fees or high interest rates.
To Stop Paying Unnecessary Annual Fees
The most pressing reason to close a credit card that isn’t pulling its weight is if it charges an annual fee. For example, while instant-approval credit cards can help build credit, they aren’t cards you want to hold on to forever due to the high annual and monthly fees they typically charge. If you’ve used the card responsibly, your credit score should increase enough to qualify for a better, fee-free card so you can leave the costly credit-builder behind.
At the other end of the spectrum, many elite rewards credit cards will charge high annual fees, with $400 to $500 fees not uncommon. While these cards often come with rewards and benefits that can make them worth the annual fee to some users, those who fail to make the most of the extra benefits may not be getting their money’s worth out of the annual fee. If you can’t justify the fee, cancel the card before your next fee is charged and look for a better fit.
To Avoid Paying High Interest Fees
The other main reason you may consider closing a credit card is if it charges a high interest rate. Although a card’s interest rate won’t typically matter if you never carry a balance, the temptation to use a credit card is always there so long as you have the card. If you have credit cards with interest rates above 20%, you may want to consider canceling the card and replacing it with one that offers a lower ongoing APR.
Credit Impacts to Consider Before You Cancel
While there are several good reasons to cancel an unused credit card, there is one solid reason to consider leaving it open: your credit score. Yes, closing a credit card account can potentially lower your credit score.
The impact of closing a credit card may be seen in several facets of your credit score, with the primary impact being to your utilization rate. FICO considers both your individual utilization rates as well as your overall utilization rate when calculating your score. Reducing your total available credit by canceling a credit card can increase your utilization rate if you currently have other credit card debt.
Other important FICO score factors can also be impacted by canceling a credit card, albeit to lesser degrees. Your average account age and overall credit history length (jointly worth 15% of your FICO score) can be reduced by canceling a card, particularly one that you’ve had for many years. While positive credit accounts will remain on your credit report for up to 10 years after they’re closed, closing very old accounts can have negative score impacts.
Lastly, creditors like to see a mix of several credit accounts and different types of accounts, as it shows you can handle a variety of credit products. As such, your overall credit mix, worth 10% of your credit score, can also be hurt by canceling a credit card, especially if you do not have very many other credit accounts.