Closing a credit card with zero balance is not a good idea if that card has no annual fee. Any credit card you manage responsibly, even an unused one, reflects positively on your credit history. So closing such a card will have a negative impact on your credit standing. But it can be worth it if your card is costly or if you’re worried about falling victim to fraud while you’re not keeping a close eye on it.
Here are the arguments against closing a credit card with zero balance:
Average account age suffers. This makes up at least 15% of your overall credit rating, so shortening it can hurt. Here’s a quick example: Imagine you have three credit card accounts, which have been open for 3 years, 5 years and 10 years, respectively. The average account age is 6 years. If you close the 10-year-old account, the age of your average account falls to 4 years. Older accounts are better for your score because a long track record of responsibility tells issuers you’re likely to behave the same way in the future.
Utilization increases. “Utilization,” or how much of your credit line you use, is important to your score. Creditors care about both your utilization on individual cards and your total utilization. Generally, the lower each is, the better. And closing an account with zero balance will increase your total utilization.
Let’s say you have three credit cards, each with a $1,000 credit line. You use 0% of one and 25% of the other two. Overall, that’s 16.7% utilization. But if you cancel the unused card, it jumps to 25%. That’s troublesome because credit score damage typically worsens if your utilization rises above 30%, and you’d be close to that milestone.
So closing an account will be a blow to your credit. You can improve your score afterward by paying on time with your remaining account(s). But it’s usually best to just keep accounts open and avoid the damage entirely. There are a few exceptions, though.
Here’s when to close a credit card with zero balance:
- It has an expensive annual fee.
- You’re worried about fraud and won’t be monitoring the card as closely. All credit cards give you a $0 fraud liability guarantee, but you might not want to count on the issuer to flag every fraudulent charge on its own.
- Keeping it open becomes a hassle, for one reason or another.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, it is possible to close a credit card that has a balance. But you’ll still be responsible for paying and will continue to accrue interest until the balance is fully paid off, even after the account is closed. You just won’t be able to make any new purchases.
If you’d like to monitor how your credit changes after you’ve closed an account, you can track your credit report and score for free on WalletHub, the only site where reports and scores update daily.