How to cancel credit cards

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Paying off your credit card might seem like a fairly straightforward process — and it can be — but before you dial that number on the back to cancel a credit card, brief yourself on a few important points of the cancellation process.

What to Consider Before You Cancel a Credit Card

People have a variety of good reasons for canceling credit cards. But if you’re canceling them just to clear out your wallet a little, keep in mind the following advice: “Avoid canceling credit cards that have at least two years of good payment history,” says financial author Harrine Freeman. “Closing this account removes the payment history when calculating your credit score, which could lower your credit utilization and may lower your credit score.”

Instead of canceling… consider a “product change,” says Sebastian Fung, co-founder of the financial website AskSebby. A product change means to downgrade or upgrade the card you have. “By doing a product change, they can make an unused card useful again without damaging their credit history.”

Also, consider canceling cards with a high annual fee. When you cancel, you may be able to get a full or partial refund of the annual fee. Ask the customer service representative when you call to cancel, Freeman says.

Steps to Take When You Cancel a Credit Card

Make sure to pay off your balance first. Canceling your card doesn’t erase any outstanding balances, accrued interest or fees, so be sure to take care of your debt first. If you close it before you have paid off your balance, you will need to continue making payments.

Use any remaining rewards prior to canceling your card. If you don’t want to miss out on airline or other travel rewards, accrued points or cash back rewards, be sure to cash in on those prior to canceling.

Notify other cardholders that you intend to close the account. If your spouse or other family members are authorized users on your account, be sure to let them know that you plan to close or cancel the card.

Contact customer service. Call your credit card company’s customer service department by phone using the number listed on the back of your card. First confirm that your balance is zero, then “provide your name as listed on the account, your account number and the effective date of cancellation,” says Freeman. “Request a confirmation letter.”

Destroy your card. Shred or cut up your card before you throw it away, which is always a good security practice.

Get a copy of your credit report. Approximately one month after you have canceled your card, you can access your updated credit report to confirm that the canceled card information is reflected accurately.

Your account will remain on your credit report. Know that even though your account is closed, it will still remain on your credit report, says Freeman. “An account in good standing remains on your credit report for up to 10 years, while an account that has past delinquencies remains on your credit report from the first date of delinquency up to seven years.”

Once a credit card is canceled, know that you won’t be able to reopen it.

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How to Cancel a Credit Card Online in 30 Seconds or Less

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A couple days ago I wrote a post about “Five Times to Cancel a Rewards Credit Card“. If you missed it, go check it out because I think knowing when to cancel a credit card is just as important as knowing when to apply for a new card. However, one thing I did not talk about in that post was how to very quickly cancel a credit card online.

I don’t like making more phone calls than I have to, and I really don’t enjoy the back and forth with customer service reps when I’ve got a long to-do list. So, yesterday when the $450 annual fee came due on a Citi credit card I needed to cancel, I did what any phone-hating busy person would do and cancelled the credit card online. Yes, you can really cancel some credit cards online! If your bank offers a “secure message center”, there is a good chance you can simply send a message asking to close a specific account and it can be handled all electronically without you ever having to pick up the phone.

In this case I used the Citi Secure Message Center to close a card with less than 30 seconds of time invested on my end.

First, I logged into my Citi online account.

Then I went into the account I wished to close.

Next, I selected the Message Center highlighted in red below.

I wrote a brief new message asking to close my account ending in number XXXX.

The next day the account was closed and I received a message back to that effect. Woohoo, another thing checked off of the to-do list!

In this case I didn’t want any retention offers or to move the credit to another account, I just wanted to straight-up close the card. If you want to try to negotiate some of those sort of things you are best served calling in the old fashioned way. If you just want a quick and to-the-point closure like I did, then online is the way to go. Again, this isn’t something that will work with all banks, but it is worth a shot if your issuer offers online support so you don’t have to waste valuable time on the phone when you can get to the point online in 30 seconds or less!

Have you closed some credit cards online using secure messaging?

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

With care, you can close an account without hurting your credit score

Expert on consumer credit laws and regulations

You want to cancel your credit card. Before you pick up your scissors, know this: Canceling a credit card the right way involves more than simply snipping it in two. It requires you to follow specific steps to close the credit card account for good with the least damage to your credit score.

Should you cancel your credit card? Probably not

The first question to ask yourself before canceling a card is: Do you really need to cancel it? Or would it be better to just put it away and not use it? Having an available line of credit on a card with no balance always helps your credit score, and it could come in handy down the line should its terms improve, or in an emergency.

However, there are two occasions when closing a credit card is called for:

  1. You can’t control your spending and need to remove the temptation.
  2. You are paying an annual fee for a card you do not use.

In those cases, it makes sense to cancel cards, since they are unnecessarily costing you money.

First step in canceling a card: evaluate impact on credit score

Prior to closing any credit card account, you need to consider the possible effect on your credit score. Just because you cancel a credit card doesn’t mean that its payment information comes off your credit report right away.

In the case of open accounts, positive credit data can stay on the credit report indefinitely. Closed accounts with zero balances and no associated negative information typically remain on a credit history for 10 years from the date they are reported closed. “This allows the positive information to remain longer than most negative information,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education with credit bureau Experian.

That’s because bad marks on your credit report have an expiration date. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, negative data such as late payments and foreclosures must come off the credit report after seven years.

Says Griffin, “If the account is never again positive, is charged off and sent to collections, the original account and any subsequent collection account will be deleted at that time.”

In addition, potential lenders take into account the amount of credit still in use once a card and its associated credit limit gets canceled. That’s because credit bureaus and lenders are interested in what is known as a balance-to-limit ratio, also known as your credit utilization ratio, which compares the amount of credit being used to the amount of total credit available to the borrower.

“The ratio is more important today than how much available credit you have,” Griffin says. From a lender’s standpoint, “a low balance-to-limit ratio is a strong indicator of good credit risk,” he says. To offset the closure of one account, for example, you can request a credit limit boost on another card in order to maintain the ratio.

Depending on your total available credit, closing a credit card account with a high credit limit could hurt your credit score, particularly if you have high balances on other cards or loans. To make sure closing one card doesn’t impact your score, pay off balances on all other cards. If you have zero balances, your credit utilization rate is zero, and won’t be impacted by the loss of a balance. However, experts say this step may be unnecessary for most people.

“If a person established good credit, the impact of card closure should be minimal and short-lived,” says Christina Goethe, spokeswoman for FICO, the provider of the most commonly used credit score.

The age of a credit card account is also an important consideration. “The time an account has been open is a factor in credit scores,” Griffin says. “A longer positive history is beneficial to credit scores. So, closing an older account in theory could have a more negative impact.”

How negative? There’s no single answer, Griffin says. “Credit scores weigh everything in a person’s credit history in relation to each other. So, for one person, closing an older account can represent higher risk than it does for another person solely because of the unique nature of their overall credit histories.” If you are young and have a short credit history, closing the account could hurt your overall credit score more than if you were someone in their 50s who has a much longer credit history. As stated earlier, closing the account doesn’t wipe that account history off your report, so if you open a new credit card with more attractive terms to replace the card you’re canceling, your credit score ’t take a big hit.

How to cancel a credit card - 7 steps

Provided you have considered these issues and have another credit card you can make charges on, you are ready to cancel your credit card. Closing an account the right way takes a little time, patience and organization. Use the following steps (and this would be a good time to print out the CreditCards.com “Cancel a credit card worksheet”).

To begin the process of closing the account, gather and write down the customer service number and the mailing address you’ll need. The customer service number is on your credit card, monthly statement and the issuer’s website; the mailing address is also on the website and the monthly statement.

In the case of rewards cards, it is common to lose some accrued rewards when a card is closed, and this may be unavoidable. But with planning, it should be possible to minimize the loss. Check the rewards balance and redemption procedures on the issuer’s website. You may be able to take accumulated miles or points as a statement credit, if you are unable to apply them to travel or merchandise. Cash-back cards generally have the easiest redemption features. However, most of them require rewards to reach certain thresholds -- usually $20 or $25 -- before you can redeem for a statement credit. A few cash-back programs award accrued cash only once a year, on a predetermined schedule. Knowing the rules for redemption will allow you to plan how to capture built-up rewards before you cancel the card.

3. Pay down your balance in full.

Pay off your credit card in full or, if you can find a balance transfer card with better terms, transfer the balance. You can’t completely close a card until the balance is paid. If you don’t want any more charges accrued to the card until the balance is paid, you can contact the issuer and ask that the card be frozen until the balance is cleared and the card closed. If you normally carry a balance from one month to another, you will need to pay the full statement balance two months in a row to wipe out the balance and stop further interest charges from accruing.

Once you reach the bank’s customer service representative, confirm that the balance on your credit card is zero. Do not assume that the balance is zero because you paid the total amount on your most recent bill. Interest may have continued to accumulate between the time the issuer sent the bill and your payment was made (that “leftover9rdquo; amount is called residual interest).

Once you’re certain the balance is zero, inform them that you are canceling the card. While some credit card companies will allow you to cancel without even speaking to a representative, others may be less obliging. If you meet with resistance, hold firm, as it is your right to close the account. Tell the rep you want it noted that the account is being closed at your request. Ask for a name and address you can write to with a notice of your card cancellation and note this along with the call details, including date, time and a way to identify the representative you spoke to.

For added insurance (in case the customer service rep makes a mistake), write a short cancellation letter to the card issuer. Request written confirmation of the account’s closure. The letter should include your name, address, phone number and account number, and details from your earlier phone call. Also, state that you want your credit report to reflect that the account was “closed at the consumer’s request.”

Being extra cautious isn’t a bad thing. Enclosed with the letter, include the check number (or a copy of the canceled check or other payment verification) that you used to pay off your account balance. Make a copy of the letter for your records. Send the letter via certified mail or with return receipt requested so you can prove the company received your letter.

Then sit tight. Getting the card canceled may take a month or more. After that time, take a look at a copy of your credit report to make sure the account is marked as “closed.9rdquo; You can pull a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the top three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get a free credit score and report from CreditCards.com. If the account appears open, repeat the process: Call the customer service number to report the mistake, follow up with a letter by certified mail (including a copy of your original letter requesting that the account be closed) and then check your credit report again. If that fails, you can file a dispute through one of the three credit bureaus (they are required to notify the others). And if that doesn’t work, you can file a dispute with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As you go through the process of canceling your credit card, you may want to keep thorough notes on who you spoke to, what they said and when. That way, if anything goes wrong, you will have all the facts recorded. When you get a return receipt from your certified mail, put it with the log you are keeping and note the date the receipt comes in.

Although it may be worth temporarily holding off on closing a credit card if you are in the market for a new loan or mortgage, canceling a credit card shouldn’t be a source of major concern for consumers with good credit, since the resulting impact on their credit scores is likely to be minimal and temporary. “Usually it’s not a lasting impact,” says Griffin.

How to cancel a credit card: The dos and don’ts every cardholder should know

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Does closing an old credit card improve your credit health? It depends on your situation, but like most things in life, closing a credit card comes with pros and cons.

On the positive side, closing an old or unused account could save you money if your card has an extraordinarily high interest rate or miscellaneous fees. Alternatively, if you have a shopping problem or an unmanageable debt load, it could make sense to close some cards to minimize your temptation to spend.

But before you rush off to cancel that credit card, here’s what you need to know:

Maintaining debt can be good for your credit health — if you manage it responsibly. And some of the biggest factors in your credit scores, like your credit card utilization rate and the average age of your accounts, could take a hit if you go through with closing that old card.

Of course, all these pros and cons depend on your situation, so it’s important to consider any additional factors before making a final decision. Read on to learn more about how to cancel a credit card, including what to do and what not to do.

How to cancel a credit card: The dos

Do consider closing unused cards that are costing you money.

If a card has an abundance of fees, you may want to consider closing the card, especially if you don’t use it. In some cases, the credit card company may be willing to lower your interest rate or waive some fees, so you may want to call and speak to a representative before making any final decisions.

Do be aware that you can usually cancel accounts that have an active balance.

How? By asking your creditor to close the account to new charges while you continue to pay down the balance each month. If you’re a heavy credit user, this may be a good way to stop yourself from spending while you’re working to reduce your balances.

Just be sure to watch out for additional fees and remember: When it comes to credit cards, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. If you forget about your account and stop paying down the balance, it may become delinquent.

In the credit card industry, any account past due is a delinquent account; however, many creditors won`t report an account as delinquent to the credit bureaus until at least 30 days after the missed due date.

Do aim to keep some accounts open.

This is generally recommended to keep your credit scores and debt balances healthy. Signs of active and responsible credit use are viewed positively by creditors. Closing too many accounts may also cause your credit utilization rate to shoot up and thus have a negative impact on your credit scores. More on that later.

Do remember to check your credit reports for updates and errors after you close accounts.

While you can generally expect that your credit card activity will be reported to the credit bureaus at the end of your billing cycle, this isn’t always the case.

And some bureaus take longer to update their records than others. Experian, for example, claims that “your credit report shows the balance on your credit card at the moment it is reported by your lender,” but different bureaus may update at different speeds and frequencies.

With that in mind, be sure to check up on your reports regularly to ensure there are no discrepancies. While the accounts and their payment histories may stay on your reports for seven or more years, the status should be updated to reflect that they are closed.

How to cancel a credit card: The don’ts

Don’t lose the oldest account on your credit reports.

The oldest account often serves as a marker for your credit history. As a result, closing it could cause your credit history to appear shorter, which may harm your credit scores.

Don’t just throw away old cards and expect your accounts to close automatically.

Again, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. The best way to close a credit card account is to be as thorough as possible — that means paying off your balance in full and calling the card’s customer service department to get specific, detailed instructions about your next steps. The representative on the phone may try to persuade you not to close the account, so be ready to firmly state your intentions.

Typically, you’ll receive an account closing confirmation letter in 10 days. If for some reason you don’t, you should be able to confirm the account was closed by phone or email.

Don’t be pressured to cancel several accounts all at once.

Closing multiple accounts at once could look suspicious to creditors. It could also amplify some of the other negative effects of a single closure. If you still want to cancel numerous credit accounts, however, then spacing the closures over time could reduce the impact to your overall credit health.

Don’t count on a balance transfer as the answer to high-interest debt.

If you’re looking to move a credit card balance with a high APR onto a card with an introductory 0 percent APR period and can do so responsibly, consider a balance transfer. Some balance transfer cards offer 0 percent intro APR on balance transfers for a limited amount of time, which can allow you to pay down debt interest-free.

Balance transfer cards may provide temporary relief from high interest rates but they don’t make your debt disappear. If you’re approved for a transfer, you should make a plan for paying your debt down in the limited promotion period.

Also, in order to qualify for a balance transfer card, you typically need to have good to excellent credit.

We like the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card which comes with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months and purchases for 12 months. (After that, the variable APR will be 14.24% - 24.24%.)

There’s a balance transfer fee of 5%; minimum: $5. Also note that balance transfers must be completed within four months of account opening.

The Right Way to Cancel a Credit Card

  • Are You a Shopaholic? 6 Steps to Curb Compulsive SpendingGet Rich Slowly
  • Canceling Credit Cards May Sound Wise, But is It?Creditcards.com

When I was younger, I carried more than $20,000 in credit card debt, and it took a long time to recover. While credit cards aren’t evil, they can be very dangerous.

Just as you’d treat a chainsaw with respect, you need to be careful with the way you wield credit. If you’re not careful, you could do some real damage to your financial life.

If you have trouble with compulsive spending, it’s best to take away the tool that makes it so easy to get into trouble. Don’t just cut up your credit cards — cancel them. Doing so buys you time to learn to manage credit responsibly without a constant temptation to spend. Even if you don’t have trouble with credit, you may still want to close an account from time to time.

Canceling a credit card is easy, but if you do it, do it right.

  • Close just one account at a time, even if you’re closing several. First, cancel cards that charge you fees. Also, it’s better to cancel new cards before old ones. And you may want to keep cards with good rewards programs.
  • Before you close an account, pay off your balance or transfer it elsewhere. If you try to cancel a card while it still has a balance on it, you might end up paying nasty fees and high interest rates.
  • Contact your credit card company. You can cancel some accounts online, which is convenient because often when you try to cancel by phone, the sales rep will do his best to talk you into staying. If this happens, be firm.
  • Send written confirmation. Follow up by writing a letter like this one to the card issuer.
  • Watch your credit report. It may take several weeks for changes to appear on your credit report. It’s your responsibility to be sure the report is accurate, so keep tabs on it. You may also want to watch your credit score to see if canceling the card did any damage.
  • When you’re certain the account is closed, cut up your card.

Be aware that canceling a credit card may actually hurt your credit score. Part of your score is based on how much of your available credit you actually use; this is your credit utilization ratio. When you close a card, this ratio jumps because you’re using more of your valuable credit. And when this ratio jumps, your credit score goes down. (Also note that the longer you’ve had an account, the more you’ll affect your credit score by closing it.)

Still, there are compelling arguments for closing credit card accounts. Doing so keeps you from abusing credit, reduces the risk of identity theft, and makes bookkeeping easier.

Whether these factors outweigh the potential damage to your credit score is a call only you can make. When I was deep in debt, I canceled my accounts. I’m glad I did. It gave me time to learn about money without the temptation to spend. Now that I can manage my finances responsibly, I carry a personal credit card once again.

J.D. Roth is the founder of Get Rich Slowly and the author of Your Money the Missing Manual. He also writes about More Than Money at jdroth.com.

Roth's latest book is Your Money: The Missing Manual.



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