Canceling Your Credit Card Damages Your Credit

Manage Your CreditA big part of managing your credit is understanding what helps and hurts your credit score. If you have a good grasp of these things, you can slowly build the type of credit score that creates opportunities for you and saves you lots of money through lower interest rates on major purchases, such as homes and cars. There's a lot of misinformation out there about credit scores, and one of the more common pieces of misinformation is that canceling old or otherwise unnecessary credit cards will help your score. That's not necessarily true — here's why:

You want your debt-to-credit ratio to work for rather than against your credit score. Your debt-to-credit ratio is the amount of available debt you're currently using divided by the total amount of available credit. This ratio tends to help your credit score if you use less than half of your total available credit. When you cancel a credit card, you're removing the credit limit on that card from your available credit.

To better illustrate this point, let's say that you have a balance of $5,000 on a credit card with a credit limit of $10,000. Five thousand divided by ten thousand equals a debt-to-credit ratio of 50 percent. This can helps your credit score, but if you purchase a new refrigerator by charging $1,000 on the same credit card, your debt-to-credit ratio climbs to 60 percent and starts working against your score. If you max out that card, the percentage goes up to 100, which can really hurt your score.

In addition, your debt-to-credit ratio works the same way across all credit accounts. The credit bureaus look at your aggregate credit limit and how much of the total limit you are currently using; and if it's at 50 percent or lower, it's helping your score. If your ratio is anything over 50 percent, lenders start to get itchy about your risk of default. Lenders are itchy by nature, so you don't want to further provoke their capacity for itchiness by going over 50 percent.

When you cancel a credit card or merchant card that you never use anymore, you're reducing your amount of available credit. To keep these credit limits active, use them every once in a while; just be sure to pay them off quickly. (If you don't use a card, the issuer will eventually cancel it anyway.)

Hopefully, this has dispelled one of the more common myths about credit scores and canceling credit cards. Hold on to those lines of credit, use them occasionally, and pay them off immediately, and they'll keep working for your score.


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