losing old and unused credit accounts on your credit reports can help you avoid unnecessary fees and guard against identity theft. It can also cause your credit score to drop if you are not careful. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for closing those dormant accounts:
• Consider closing unused and idle accounts. These accounts could be charging you unnecessary fees and are often targets for identity thieves. Close the accounts with annual fees or the highest interest rates first.
• Check your credit report online to see the status of your accounts. Look for late payments, high balances and signs of identity theft. As a bonus, checking your credit report can save you some research time by providing you with contact information for each of your creditors.
• Be aware that you can cancel accounts that have an active balance. You can ask your creditor to close the account to new charges and continue paying down the balance each month. This may be a good way for heavy credit users to prevent new spending while they are reducing their balances but watch out for hidden fees.
• Keep four to six credit accounts open. This will keep your credit score and debt balances healthy. Signs of active and responsible credit use are viewed positively by creditors.
• Designate one card for regular use and try to pay the balance in-full each month. Reserve the other cards for emergencies only so that you are not tempted to overspend.
• Don’t close the oldest account on your credit report. This could cause your credit history to appear shorter and could harm your credit score.
• Don’t just throw away old cards and expect your accounts to close automatically. The safest way to close an account is to send a certified letter to the customer service department of the credit company. You should receive an account closing confirmation letter in 10 days.
• You shouldn’t be pressured to cancel several accounts all at once. Gradually paying down and closing accounts may be the best plan if you are unsure about the impact on your credit score or the amount of debt you need to carry. If you want to cancel numerous credit accounts, spacing the closures over time will reduce the chance of attracting negative suspicion from potential creditors.
• Avoid over-consolidating balances onto one card. If your credit balances rise to above 35% of your available limits, you may see a drop in your credit score.
• Don’t forget to check your credit report for updates and errors after you close your credit accounts. Wait 30-60 days for the creditor to report the closed account and the credit reporting agencies to update your records. While the accounts and their payment histories will stay on your report for 7 or more years, they should be marked as “closed.”