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Credit Card & Credit History

Mark Cappel
UpdatedMar 29, 2010

Will I harm my credit score if I close my oldest credit card?

I have a credit card which I opened in 2001 with a balance of $18,000 @ 15.9% interest. I am not using the card now and trying to make monthly payments of at least $600.00 to pay it down. I have another card with no balance which I opened in 1994. The credit limit is $27,000 and I have not used it since 2008. My question is should I cancel the card I opened in 1994? I've read the answers to this type of question, but they seem to conflict.

Keep your oldest credit account open because it establishes the baseline for your credit history. As you are inquiring about how to improve your credit score, let me give you some information on how a credit score is calculated. Your credit rating is calculated based on several variables, including:

Payment history

Payment history counts for approximately 35% of your score and is the most heavily weighted factor used in calculating your credit score. Consistently paying your bills on time has a positive influence on your score, while late or missed payments will hurt you in this area. If you have delinquent payments, the older the delinquency the less the negative impact on your score will be. Collection accounts and bankruptcy filings are also taken into consideration when analyzing your payment history.

Total debt and total available credit

This counts for about 30% and weighs how much debt you have compared to the total available credit on your accounts. If all of your accounts are maxed out, you will be considered a poor credit risk, because it appears that you are struggling to pay off the debt you have already incurred. If your account balances are relatively low compared to your available credit, this part of the risk analysis should help your overall credit score.

The score calculation also looks at these two factors independently. Having too much available credit, whether you have used it or not, could hurt your credit score, as statistical studies have shown that people with excessive amounts of available credit are a higher credit risk. Unfortunately, the bureaus do not define exactly what they consider excessive, so best tip is to use credit conservatively and to keep your debt to credit limit ratio low.

Length of positive credit history

This counts for about 15%. The longer you maintain accounts in good standing, the better your score will be. This shows that you are able to make a long-term commitment to a creditor and are consistently responsible about making your payments. If you have accounts with long history (5 or more years) and no missed payments, you should keep these open and paid off.

Mix of types of credit

This counts for approximately 10%. Having several different types of credit, such a credit cards, consumer loans, and secured debt, will have a positive influence on your credit score. Having too much of one type of credit can have a negative impact.

The number of new credit applications you have recently completed

This accounts for about 10% of your score. Applying for too much new credit in a short time period makes indicates that you could be credit risk, as you may be desperately trying to keep your head above water. The models make an exception for people who are shopping around for a loan, so if you are simply applying to see who can give you the best rate on a new loan, you need not worry too much about damaging your credit score.

How to improve a credit score

Here are four steps to improve your credit score:

1. Pay off all debts and keep revolving lines below 25% utilization. Do not "max out" any loans or cards.

2. Diversify you credit portfolio. If, for example, you have only a Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card, get a department store credit card or card from a gasoline retailer. Make your payments every month. Leave a small balance every once in a while to show that you are able to handle debt on more than one account.

3. Keep your oldest credit account active. Remember "Length of positive credit history" discussed above.

4. Pull your credit report and contest any inaccurate information so that it can be corrected by the credit bureaus. Go to the debt self-help center for sample dispute letters. The credit bureaus must follow the rules set forth by Congress in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

If you would like to learn more about credit reports, credit scoring, and what it means to you, I encourage you to explore the wealth of material offered by the credit information page.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.




MMatt, Sep, 2012
My friend is moving back to Korea and is unsure what to do with his three US credit cards (all fully paid off). He wants to close them out since he can't use them in Korea without incurring additional transaction fees, but he doesn't want to do any long-term damage to his US credit history in case he returns in a few years. What is the best way for him to handle this? Thanks!
BBill, Sep, 2012
He should not close the cards, if he wants to maintain his US credit score. I suggest that he take these steps: 1. Keep the cards somewhere safe. 2. Monitor his account online, to makes sure that there is no fraudulent activity. 3. Make sure that the creditor has a valid mailing address to reach him, if necessary. 4. Make an occasional charge, for small purchases or gifts, to keep the cards active. One charge per card every four to six months should be sufficient.
TTiffany, Aug, 2012
I have a credit card that is about 4 years old, I got it back when I had bad credit to help me re-establish my credit. The card has a high interest rate along with a $7 monthly fee and a $48 annual fee. I now have good credit and other cards with no fees and lower rates. I would like to close this card out so I don't have to continue to pay their fees but I worry about affecting my credit scores. Any advice on what I should do?
BBill, Aug, 2012
About 10% of your credit score is based on the length of your credit history. If the account you wish t close is your oldest account, then your score could drop. I can't say how many points.

My basic advice is that if you are not applying for an auto loan or home loan in the next year, close the account, to save the monthly and yearly fees, then take the right steps to improve your credit (reduce credit utilization on other cards, pay every bill on time, etc.).