What does opening or cancelling a credit card do to my credit score?

To close a credit card, the balance is $0. If there’s a substantial balance on the remaining cards, it’s going to increase the credit utilization ratio. And, if the increase is high enough, it will hurt your credit score. This is because the closed card’s unused credit limit no longer provides balance in the relationship between your other credit balances and credit limits. What you owe elsewhere can have a bigger impact than if you had a zero-balance credit card.

Another thing: Closing an account means the creditor will stop reporting on your behalf your credit history on that card. If the card showed positive credit history, such as responsible usage and making payments on time, that history will gradually fade away and no longer bolster your credit score. 

The reverse can’t be said. If the card showed negative credit history, closing the account will not erase the negative impact on your score. 

Generally speaking, cancelling a credit card won’t improve your credit score, and you shouldn’t close a credit card unless you have a good reason, such as not trusting yourself to use the credit responsibly.

Buyer beware: Welcome offers

Many credit cards come with a generous sign-up bonus that helps you earn cash back, points, miles or a reduced interest rate. Welcome offers can be a great way to save money, especially if you already had planned on spending the minimum threshold to earn them. However, proceed with caution. 

Read the fine print. Despite the enticing welcome offer of a credit card, your credit score may drop when you apply for a new card as a hard inquiry will be performed during the application process. Although your credit score will only drop a couple of points and will likely recover after a few months if you make your payments on time, it’s still a hit to your credit.

Remember that welcome offers are one-time deals. While some credit card sign-up bonuses may save you money up front, the reality is that any rewards you earn aren’t worth incurring additional bills if you’re already struggling with debt. You should only consider a new welcome offer if you have paid off your credit card debt in full. If you have any debt, focus on paying that down—not short-term wins like getting a lower and very temporary interest rate.

Opening and closing credit cards can impact how you use credit, too. Open multiple new cards, and you may end up with more credit than you can feasibly handle or keep track of. In addition, the allure of welcome offers may distract you from your financial goals. There’s impact on your credit score, and it’s critical to think about how having more or less credit affects your ability to live within your means and pay off your debt in full each month.

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