Considering Cancelling Credit Cards? Read Our Tips.

I often get notes from people who have a small mountain of credit cards. They’re trying to figure out which ones they should keep and which ones they should cancel for various reasons, and they’re (rightfully) concerned with their credit report when they do this.

Obviously, a wallet full of credit cards can be a problem: you have many more opportunities for identity theft and, often, with so many credit cards, your total line of credit may be high enough that it’s actually hurting your credit report. This doesn’t even cover the more aesthetic issues: extra paper management, an unreasonably fat wallet, etc.

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So, if you have a mountain of cards, what should you do to trim them down? Here’s my recommendation for anyone dealing with a big pile of the cards.

First, identify one to be your primary spending card. There is no universal “best card” for everyone. You should look at your spending very carefully and choose one that best matches your habits. For us, we use the Citi Driver’s Edge card because we both commute for work and we earn a penny per mile driven in the form of a rebate on our next car purchase. It works well for us, but not necessarily as well for others. I actually have a second primary use card – we keep an Amazon card because we do a lot of our shopping there and it nets us 3% back on all purchases there, so we use the Amazon card exclusively for Amazon and the Driver’s Edge card for everything else.

Next, determine which card you’ve had for the longest period of time. Which is your oldest card? That card is the one that has the longest credit history, which is important for your credit report. For me, my oldest card is one that I got as a freshman in college. It has an atrocious “bonus” program associated to it (1/4% return in the form of “points”), but it was the first one I had and thus it’s been on my credit report for more than a decade, establishing that I’ve had positive credit for a long while.

Also, stop carrying this big, fat wallet full of cards with you. I only carry my two primary use cards with me. My oldest card is in my safe. All of the other cards I’ve ever had have been cancelled. This means my wallet is pretty thin, as I basically carry just a very small number of club and buyer rewards cards (library, Sam’s Club, Borders, Best Buy, etc.).

Then, start zero-balancing and cancelling all of your other credit cards over time. You can pretty safely cancel all of the rest of your cards that already have a zero balance. With the others, stop using them and start paying them off, making minimum payments on all of them and extra payments on whichever one charges the highest interest rate. When that one’s done, cancel it and start making extra payments on the next one and so on until they’re all gone, then cancel them.

What you’ll end up with is a much thinner wallet and a credit report in very healthy shape. The length of your credit history will remain unchanged and the ratio of your credit limit to your income will actually be in better shape than before.

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Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.