Building Credit Discussion: Cancel Cards Or Not?

In response to my two recent posts on building credit (getting credit without a credit card and building up credit), Konstantin writes in and says:

I am following your blog daily and I found two conflicting ideas you suggest that I have a hard time reconciling them:

“Another tip is that by canceling credit cards, you’re actually hurting yourself in two ways. First, you’re reducing the total available revolving credit that you have without reducing the amount of current debt you have, thus raising your credit ratio. Second, by eliminating lines of credit, you’re shortening your credit history. Simply put, if you’ve already got a credit card and paid it off, don’t cancel it; put it away somewhere safe.”


“Keep the total amount of your credit cards’ available credit low”

So, if I cancel a card and/or if I have several cards – it’s bad BUT if I have several cards the combined credit limit reduces my debt ratio.

What’s the right way then?

These things are only in conflict if you carry a significant balance on your credit cards. Here’s what the game plan should be if you want to get your credit in good shape.

First, pay off all of your balances. Get those cards paid off, whatever it takes. Credit card debt is not healthy debt – the sooner you get rid of it, the better.

Once you’re on this level playing field, cancel some of your cards. I recommend keeping your oldest card and the one with the best bonus program and eliminating all of the rest, including the store-based cards. Why? A large total credit limit can be detrimental because it indicates to lenders that you have the potential to very quickly go deeply into credit card debt.

Once you’re there, use the bonus card, but try to keep the monthly balance under 20% of your total credit limit. For example, if the total limit on your remaining cards is $20,000, don’t carry more than $4,000 on the card if at all possible.

Doing this will keep the total amount of available credit low while not hurting you for eliminating lines of credit and altering your debt-to-credit ratio. The end result? A much better credit rating.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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