Cardholders of the Circuit City store card received news in March from Chase indicating they could use their now-defunct cards at Best Buy locations. However, experts say, the letters don’t inform customers that they could damage their credit reports if their new cards remain unused.
The letters, postmarked March 20, told consumers that they would be sent a Best Buy branded card in May, but in the meantime, they could use their Circuit City card at Best Buy locations. Their new cards would have the same account numbers, rates, fees and terms as their old cards.
The once-prominent electronics store Circuit City announced Jan. 16, 2009 it was going out of business, ultimately losing the struggle to survive after cutting jobs to save money, failing to find a buyer and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November. The retailer — which at its height operated 700 stores — attributed its liquidation to reduced consumer spending and increased competition.
The company terminated its card rewards program after announcing it was going out of business. Normally, when a company closes a card, the cardholder’s credit score takes a hit. While Chase‘s action circumvents cancellation, it doesn’t give cardholders the option to close their account without penalty, or clearly inform them they still have it open, whether or not they activate their new card, so even if former Circuit City cardholders take no action at all, they are placing their credit scores in jeopardy.
Card issuers increasingly are cutting credit lines to avert risk in anticipation of defaulted payments in the tightening economy. A canceled account can damage a credit report, and dormant credit cards are usually first on issuers’ list of accounts to be eliminated, even if the card has a long history, a high limit or the owner has good credit.
According to a July 2007 survey by credit bureau Equifax, leaving a dormant account open can be a risk. According to the survey, 35 percent of respondents kept a spare account open, and often didn’t use it. “Many consumers keep extra accounts open for an emergency,” says Neil Munroe, external affairs director at the company. “However, dormant accounts, where the account is not active but has not been closed, can leave consumers vulnerable to credit refusal and ID theft,” says Munroe. Many of the survey’s participants said they had not gotten around to closing their dormant card accounts yet; others were surprised to find they even had accounts open and on their credit reports.
Customers who receive the new Best Buy cards would have to call and cancel the cards if they don’t want them, or use them to prevent accounts from becoming dormant and risking cancellation. Lucy Duni, vice president of consumer education at TrueCredit.com, advises using a card regularly — and conservatively. “If the card is dormant, and you want to keep it active, go ahead and use it for small purchases and pay it off,” Duni said. “Just use it with restraint … you don’t want to get in too deep.”