Several GRS readers have written lately with the same credit card problem — but not the one you'd expect. Perhaps in an effort to cut costs, credit card companies are beginning to close their customers' unused accounts. Nicole shared a typical experience:
I'm 26 and have a solid 8-year credit history. Despite really wanting to get rid of some of my old credit cards that I never use, I've held on to the accounts since they help my credit history.
I just got some bad news about my oldest credit card. Because I haven't charged anything on the account in 13 months, the account has been suspended and closed. I called and was told by several people that there is nothing I can do about it. It's as if the years I've had the account for and the fact that I've always paid what I owe means nothing. And for my past loyalty they're willing to potentially make me take a major hit on my credit score.
I feel like I'm being penalized for doing the right thing. Other than writing a strongly worded letter to Capital One and asking my other credit card companies to increase my limits, is there anything you can think of that might help me to minimize the hit on my credit score?
Other readers have reported similar problems. The irony of this situation is that it only affects people who are using credit cards responsibly. It's important to note that although closing a credit card — whether you do it or the bank does it — will affect your credit score, the damage is generally minor, and your score should recover quickly. Still, if you're planning to apply for a loan in the near future, this could be a nasty surprise.
If this has happens to you, absolutely ask the credit card company if there's anyway to reverse the closure. Be firm but polite. Ask to speak with supervisors. It's unlikely that they'll change their minds, but it never hurts to ask.
You might also ask the issuer to grant you a new card with similar terms. You'll still suffer a ding to the “length of credit history” portion of your credit score, but you've lost that already. By obtaining a new card, you'll at least recover the “credit utilization” portion of your credit score.
If this hasn't happened to you, there's an easy way to prevent it from occurring. If you have an unused credit card account that you maintain simply too boost your credit score, make a charge or two every couple of months. Pay off the charges immediately, as normal. By using the card once in a while, the issuer will consider it active, and you won't be at risk for taking a hit to your credit score.
And, of course, if you're carrying balances on your cards, this isn't an issue. You folks should continue to pay down your debt as quickly as possible while not using your cards for new purchases.
For more on this topic, check out this anatomy of a credit score.