The Truth About Closing Credit Card Accounts

When you’re in over your head or you’ve had a bad experience with something, your natural reaction is pretty much always going to be to steer clear of the cause for some time. With credit, this typically means cutting up credit cards and closing credit accounts. Unfortunately, when it comes to your credit score, this is one of the worst knee-jerk reactions you can have. On the surface, getting rid of your accounts makes a lot of sense. You’re having debt issues, so get rid of the source of the problem and your credit problems will start to disappear. The little known fact is that this can actually make your credit issues even worse.
Let’s look at this a little closer. Fifteen percent of your credit score is derived from the age of your credit cards, with older credit accounts giving you a better score. This part of your credit score is based on the average age of your accounts. As a result, every time you terminate older accounts, you drive down the average age of your accounts considerably and risk decreasing your credit score.
Another factor to consider is your recent credit history. The credit bureaus base their evaluation of your credit worthiness on your account activity. If you close your accounts, there’s no activity for them to evaluate. This can result in a lowered score because they have no current data to determine whether you are a responsible borrower.
In addition to your account activity and age of your credit cards, your credit score is also affected by your overall utilization rate. Your utilization rate is your percentage of debt compared to your credit limit. Credit bureaus reward consumers who keep their utilization rate below 30 percent. If you close an account, there’s a good chance your rate will go up and can directly affect your credit score.
If you are having issues with paying a card, some options you might want to consider include transferring some of the debt evenly across other cards so you keep your utilization rates below 30% on all cards. If you’re not able to do that, start reducing your debt and making your way to the 30% utilization rate by making regular monthly payments. A steady history of payments will demonstrate to credit-scoring bureaus your ability to manage your accounts and will eventually improve your credit score. You’ll want to pay special attention to the oldest accounts with the highest limits and lowest interest rates.