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Will an unwanted card hurt your credit?

A reader intends to close an unwanted, less-exclusive card version

By

Credit Score Report
Reporter Jeremy M. Simon
Jeremy M. Simon is a former staff reporter for CreditCards.com who covered credit reporting and scoring issues.

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
Hi. We want to apply for a Chase Freedom Signature card. Chase says if you're not approved for that, they automatically give you a Platinum card with fewer benefits. We only want the Signature card, but they will not guarantee it before applying. They also say that if we receive the Platinum, we can cancel it within a short period and not have our credit score affected. Is this true? -- John

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Hey John,
Chase is correct that canceling an inactive credit card will prevent the new account from affecting your credit score in the long term, but the application process itself could have a slight, temporary impact. 

Your application for that Chase Freedom Card will likely impact your credit score, regardless of whether you get approved for the Signature or Platinum version. (Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll be approved for either card.) That's because when you apply for credit, the lender pulls your credit report -- a so-called "hard inquiry" -- to determine whether to approve the loan. Since more loans mean the potential for more debt, you become riskier in the eyes of the credit scoring models. Contrast this to when you request your own credit report. These so-called "soft inquiries" for educational puposes don't impact your credit score. 

If you get that unwanted Platinum card, however, call to cancel the account. By doing so, no card activity will get reported to the credit bureaus -- preventing any further changes to your credit score. "If you close the new card before using it, there should be no additional impact beyond the likely score drop from the initial account opening," says Barry Paperno, customer operations manager for myFICO.com, the consumer-oriented website for FICO, creator of the leading U.S. scoring model.  

Applying for a single card shouldn't have much impact. FICO's website notes that most applicants see a credit score decline of fewer than five points. Since FICO scores range from 300 to 850, a drop of that size is relatively small. (Compare that to the 10 to 45 points lost when you max out a card, for example, or the 130 to 240 points lost when you declare bankruptcy.) Also, "any lost points from the addition of a new account can usually be recovered within a short period of time, as long as all accounts are paid on time, balances on other credit cards don't increase and you don't open any other new accounts," Paperno says.

One major exception to this: If you apply for too much credit in too short a time, resulting in numerous hard inquiries, it could raise red flags and cause further credit score damage. Be careful when you apply -- just as you seem to be doing. 

By immediately canceling that Chase account, you prevent the card from ever appearing on your credit report. "If an inactive account is closed within a few days of when it was opened" and before your first card statement is produced, "we would not report it to the bureaus," bank spokeswoman Gail Hurdis says. Hurdis says that the first statement is produced seven to 14 days after Chase makes its decision. So be to be safe, cancel the card within the first week.

Still, you may want to think twice before closing that account. You'd likely be denied for the Chase Freedom card due to a less-than-stellar credit score, but keeping the Platinum card and using it responsibly will help you build a better credit history. That could eventually help you get approved for the Signature product or convince Chase to upgrade your account status.

In other words, use what you get to eventually get what you want. "From a credit scoring standpoint, as long as you keep the balances low and make your payments on time, it doesn't matter if the card is platinum, gold, black or blue," says Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit bureau Experian. 

Good luck!

--Jeremy 

See related: Hard inquiries have limited credit score impact, How to cancel a credit card, FICO reveals how common credit mistakes affect scores

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Published: January 11, 2011


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