If you have a large number of credit card accounts, you may want to consider keeping them open to preserve your credit score. However, there are good reasons to close some cards, such as not wanting to pay an annual fee or becoming overwhelmed as you try to keep track of payment dates.
Dear Keeping Score,
I currently have about 30 open credit cards with limits ranging from $3,000 to $12,000. My credit score is between 825 and 830. I usually only have about $2,000-$3,000 on all my cards at any given time. Should I close some accounts and if I do, will it affect my FICO? I have had many of these cards for many years. – Lonnie
Some people collect stamps, others refrigerator magnets of the places they’ve visited. You, it appears, collect credit cards!
Seriously though, congratulations on your stellar use of credit and on your exceptional credit score. Any score of 800 or higher is considered “exceptional” by FICO. I’m quite certain you want to stay there, so let’s see if we can help you do that.
As a general rule, it is best to keep accounts open if you can. There are two reasons for this, but there are also good reasons to close accounts sometimes. Let’s talk about the reasons to keep them open first and then we can discuss the exceptions that might make you want to close some.
Why you should keep all your card accounts open
A big chunk of the credit scoring matrix is something called credit utilization, and it makes up 30 percent of your overall score. Credit utilization is the amount of credit you are using versus the amount of credit you have available to you.
In simple terms, if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit and you charge $100 you have used 10 percent of your available credit. The lower you can keep your utilization, the better it is for your score.
What this means for you is that if you close several of your cards, your total available credit over all your cards will decrease and will likely affect your utilization. A good rule of thumb is to keep that number below 30 percent, but the lower the better. If you can close or combine some cards and keep your utilization number in check, closing the cards may not have much impact on your score.
With 30 cards you probably have more than one card with a single issuer. Let’s say you have four cards with Chase – two airline and two hotel co-branded cards. Ask if they will transfer the credit you have on two of the cards you don’t use very much and apply it to the remaining cards. You may not get 100 percent of the credit carried over, but you may get a substantial amount.
You say that the limits on your credit cards are $3,000 to $12,000. With your score, you should qualify for much higher limits. Having fewer higher limit cards should counteract any loss when you close the other cards, and it may even help as utilization is calculated across all your cards as well on an individual card basis.
Another reason for not closing accounts is your credit history. Creditors like to see accounts that have been successfully maintained for a long period of time. However, this piece only counts for 10 percent of your overall score. So you could easily close your newer accounts without a problem as long as you keep your oldest account open.
Also remember that the histories on positive accounts are reported long after they are closed, in many cases for 10 years and even more for mortgages.
See related: How many cards is too many?
Why you should close some of your card accounts
Now let’s talk about the reasons to close some of those accounts.
Having to keep track of 30 credit cards must be a bookkeeping nightmare. I hate to admit it, but I have been known to send my Chase airline card bill payment to my Chase hotel card account. Chase is good about figuring out I messed up and applying the payment where it should be, but if it happens to me, it could happen to you!
Your payment history is the biggest piece of the credit scoring pie at 35 percent, so you must be flawless in this department to maintain your current credit score.
To help you get to the “close or keep” decision here are some points in favor of closing unused accounts:
- First, determine which, if any, cards are charging you an annual fee. Those cards I would certainly consider ditching unless you are getting a renewal incentive (that you actually use) greater than the cost of the card fee. For instance, I had a Hyatt card for years until I noticed I wasn’t using the free night that came with the $95 annual fee.
- Next, consider closing cards that are your oldest last. See my above comments about credit history.
- If you’re not worried about identity theft, you should be. I can’t imagine the complexity of unraveling fraudulent charges on 30 cards if you are compromised. Is it likely? No. But why take an unnecessary risk?
- You may be creating a potential mortgage issue if you think you may need to apply for one in the future. Having that much unsecured credit available can be a sticking point for some mortgage lenders. If a new mortgage or refinance is in your future, you’ll be heading off a possible objection by dropping some cards.
- I love the sign-up bonuses that come with some cards. You are slighting yourself on two fronts here. First, some issuers won’t give you another card (and its bonus) if you already have a certain number of their cards already. Also, even if you threaten to drop the card you won’t get nearly the point bonus for a renewal as you would if you closed the account and reopened it as a new card a year or two later.
An 800 credit score is exceptional, but not critical
Lastly, for my other readers who may not have 800-plus FICO scores, I have this insight: credit and a high score are great tools, but they are merciless masters. All you need is credit that is good enough to do what you want: buy a home, a car, travel.
Killing yourself for a score over 800 doesn’t get you anything extra or any better offers or pricing. My advice is to stay in charge of your score and not have it be in charge of your life.
Remember to keep track of your score!