We have an article that details the benefits of canceling old, unused credit cards, but is this always a good idea? The answer to that is no. There are times when keeping a credit card line open is actually more beneficial to your overall credit health than closing it.
One occasion when you might want to hold off on canceling those older credit cards is when you plan to apply for a major loan. Major loans include such things as a home loan, car loan, boat loan, or other loans in excess of a few thousand dollars.
The reasoning behind this is that closing credit line accounts, especially those that you paid on time and in full, can actually lower your credit score.
Paying down accounts that still have a balance is important to your credit score, but simply closing paid off accounts will not help you improve your credit score at all. As indicated above, canceling a large amount of unused credit may actually hurt your overall credit score.
You may be saying to yourself: That does not make sense!
Here is how this works. It has to do with how credit bureaus calculate your score.
The reporting agencies use many different factors when figuring out your credit score and one of the factors that they use is the total amount of debt you have on your credit cards and the revolving accounts that you have divided by the total amount of debt available on those accounts. Once these calculations are done, a number less than 1 (one) will occur.
This fractional number is one way they use to judge your credit worthiness. The lower this fraction is the better. To help you better understand this, if the resultant number was exactly 1, then that would mean that your outstanding debt is equal to your available credit and you would be at the maximum level, or maxed out for credit.
For example, if you had $ 5000 in current debt and you had $ 15,000 in your various credit lines, you would divide $ 5000 by $ 15,000 and you would get 1/3. This means you are currently using 1/3 of the credit that is currently available to you.
To take this a step further: If you cancel an old credit card that has a $ 5,000 limit (but no current balance owed on it) you will still have the same $ 5000 in current debt (see above example) but you only have $ 10,000 in your credit lines (as compared to the $ 15,000 mentioned above). When you do the math you come up with the fraction of.. In other words, you are using of of the credit that is available.
Keep in mind that the closer you get to the number 1, the less attractive you are for future credit.
The best advice for anyone contemplating a home or auto loan is to keep the credit lines that you have until after you have finalized the loan itself. Then it is safe to cancel the card.
If you are not planning a major loan activity and the balances on your old cards is zero, go ahead and close them out. This will not hurt your credit score.