Apr
15
2009

Closing account when credit card company changes terms

Dear Experian,

We received a “change in terms” notice from one of our credit card companies, increasing our interest from 7.90 percent to 17.90 percent, and from fixed to variable. Which decision will be best for our credit ratings, closing the account or paying it off and keeping it open at the higher rate, but not using it?

- KML

 

Dear KML,

As with so many questions about credit reports and credit scores, the answer is that it depends on your overall credit history.

Generally, it is better to pay off the account balance and keep the account open. Credit scores are affected by your utilization rate, which is the ratio of your total account balances to your total available credit limits. The lower your utilization rate, the better.

Keeping the account open ensures that the card’s credit limit is included in the calculation. Paying off the balance further reduces the utilization rate. If you have no other credit cards that have a lower interest rate, you should use the card periodically and pay the balance in full each month just to keep the account active. If you have no credit activity, there is no basis for predicting your risk.

However, credit scores should not be the only factor in your decision. Too often I hear from people who are buried in debt, and the last thing they should be concerned about is their credit scores.

If you are deeply in debt, are struggling to make your payments on time, or already have late payments, closing the account could be the right thing for you to do, especially if you are tempted to use it. It would be better to close the account than risk digging yourself deeper into trouble.

In that case, credit scores are not important because you shouldn’t be taking on more debt, anyway. Instead, you should be taking steps to reduce the debt you already have and making sure you don’t add to it.

Congratulations on recognizing that you need to avoid high interest payments. No matter what your debt position, that is such a smart thing to do.

Thanks for asking.

- The “Ask Experian” team

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