When to Cancel a Credit Card? 10 Dos and Don’ts to Follow

Maria O. says:

I’m a huge fan of the Money Girl Podcast and am also a Get Out of Debt Fast student. I’ve taken your financial advice and am glad to say that my husband and I are in a much better financial situation now.

We both have travel rewards credit cards with zero balances that we haven’t used in over a year. We know that canceling cards isn’t advisable, but we really want to stop paying the $95 annual fee. My husband’s credit score is 780 and mine is 818. What do you recommend?

Maria, thanks so much for your question and for being a part of the Money Girl community!

Before you cancel a credit card, it’s critical to understand how it will affect your entire financial life. Whether you should get rid of a card depends on a variety of factors, including your future financial goals.

In this post, I’ll cover 10 dos and don’ts for when to cancel a credit card. You’ll learn how to manage these accounts wisely so they improve your finances and don’t hurt them.

Before I cover each of these dos and don’ts, here’s an overview of why building good credit and using credit cards the right way is so important.

The benefits of building your credit

Having good credit simply means that you have a reliable financial track record according to the data in your credit history with the nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Different credit scoring models use that data to calculate credit scores, which act as shortcuts for various businesses to evaluate you quickly.

When you have high credit scores, potential lenders and merchants have more confidence that you’ll be a good customer who pays their bills on time. That’s an incentive for them to give you top-tier offers, which saves you money.

Having good credit scores allows you to get the most competitive interest rates and terms when you borrow money using credit cards, mortgages, car loans, student loans, and personal loans. For instance, paying just 1% less for a mortgage could save you over $100,000 on the cost of a 30-year, fixed-rate loan, depending on the total amount you borrow.

However, even if you never borrow money to finance a home or charge a vacation to a credit card, having good credit gives you other significant benefits, including:

  • Lower auto insurance premiums (in most states) 
  • Lower home insurance premiums (in most states) 
  • More opportunities to rent a home or apartment
  • Lower security deposits on utilities 
  • More government benefits 
  • Better chances to get a job

RELATED: 12 Credit Myths and Truths You Should Know

The Connection Between Credit Cards and Your Credit

The only way to build credit is to have active credit accounts in your name and to use them responsibly over time. That’s where credit cards come into play.

One of the biggest factors in how credit scores are calculated is called your credit utilization ratio. It only applies to revolving accounts, such as credit cards and lines of credit, which don’t have a fixed term. Credit utilization isn’t measured for installment loans, such as mortgages and car loans, because they do have a set ending or maturity date.Credit utilization is a simple formula that equals your total account balance divided by your total credit limit. For example, if you have a credit card with a balance of $1,000 and a credit limit of $2,000, your utilization ratio is 50% ($1,000 / $2,000 = 0.50).

Keeping a low utilization, such as below 20%, is optimal for good credit.

Keeping a low utilization, such as below 20%, is optimal for good credit. So, by paying down your balance on the card to $400, you could reduce your utilization ratio to 20% ($400 / $2,000 = 0.20) and boost your credit scores.

A low utilization ratio says that you’re using credit responsibly. A high ratio indicates that you may be maxed out and even getting close to missing a payment.

Many people mistakenly believe that getting rid of their credit cards will automatically improve their credit. The surprising truth is that canceling credit cards usually hurts it because your available credit on the card plunges to zero, which instantly increases your utilization and causes your credit scores to drop right away.

However, whether closing a card is right for you really depends on your current and future financial situation. Use the following do and don’ts to know when ditching a card is best and how to do it with minimal damage to your credit.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Get a Loan With Bad Credit

10 dos and don’ts for when to cancel a credit card

1. Do cancel credit cards that are a net loss

If you’re like Maria and have great credit with an unused card that’s costing you money, you may want to consider canceling it. Many rewards cards come with an annual fee, especially when they offer cashback, airline miles, or points for merchandise. In some cases, using the rewards easily offsets the annual fee.

If you won’t use the card or can’t afford the annual fee, common sense should be the deciding factor, not your credit score.

However, if you won’t use the card or can’t afford the annual fee, common sense should be the deciding factor, not your credit score. However, one option is to replace a card that charges an annual fee with another card that doesn’t, ideally before you cancel the first one. That allows you to swap out one credit limit for another one and avoid any damage to your credit.  

2. Do cancel credit cards that tempt you to overspend

I also don’t recommend keeping a credit card if it tempts you to overspend. Taking a temporary hit to your credit might be worth it to prevent bigger problems in your financial life.

3. Do cancel credit cards to simplify your financial life

If you’ve missed payments or can’t keep up with transactions because you have too many cards, it might be worth it to strategically cancel one or more credit cards. Keep reading for tips to minimize the potential damage to your credit.

4. Do cancel credit cards with low credit limits first

If you cancel a credit card, choosing one with a higher credit limit poses more of a threat than getting rid of one with a smaller limit. The lower your credit limit on a card, the less closing it could negatively affect your credit.

As I previously mentioned, for optimal credit, it’s best to never carry a balance that exceeds 20% of your available credit limit. If you’re not sure what your credit limits are, you can review them by getting a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

5. Do cancel credit cards you recently opened by mistake

A common credit dilemma is what to do after opening a new credit card that you felt pressured into at a retail store. Sales clerks make getting a huge discount with a new card signup sound too good to pass up. In some cases, you may not even realize that what you’re signing up for is a credit card.

If you’re loyal to a store and make frequent purchases there, having its branded credit card can give you nice savings and promotional benefits that make it worthwhile. While you can’t erase the card from your credit history, if you decide that you’d rather not have the account, closing it sooner rather than later is better for your credit.

Free Resource: Credit Score Survival Kit – a video tutorial, e-book, and audiobook to help build credit fast!

6. Don’t cancel your only credit card

In addition to maintaining low credit utilization, the health of your credit depends on having a mix of credit accounts. That shows you can handle different types of credit, such as installment loans and revolving accounts. But if you cancel your only credit card, that would leave you deficient in the revolving credit category.

It’s better to spread out your balances on multiple cards and maintain low utilization on each of them, rather than have one card that you charge to the limit.

Therefore, I don’t recommend canceling a credit card if it’s your only one. Having at least one card in the mix rounds out your credit file. Ideally, you would have a total of two or three cards that come from different issuers, such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover.

If you have more than one line of credit or credit card, most credit scoring models calculate your utilization ratio for each account and collectively on all your accounts. So, it’s better to spread out your balances on multiple cards and maintain low utilization on each of them, rather than have one card that you charge to the limit.  

Depending on the types of charges you make, you may need a low-rate card for times when you must carry a balance and a higher-rate rewards card for charges that you always pay off each month. No annual fee cards are best, but as I previously mentioned, rewards cards that come with a fee may be worth it.

 

7. Don’t cancel credit cards you’ve had for a long time

As if credit utilization and having a mix of credit accounts weren’t enough, a canceled credit card hurts your credit in other ways. Another factor that’s used in calculating credit scores is how long you’ve had credit accounts.

Having a long, rich credit history boosts your scores and makes you appear less risky to potential lenders and merchants. Canceling a long-standing credit card causes your average age of credit history to decrease, which hurts your credit. So, value credit cards that you’ve had for a long time more than those you’ve recently opened.

8. Don’t cancel multiple cards at the same time

If you have more than one credit card that you want to cancel, don’t shut them all down at the exact same time. It’s better to space out cancellations over time, such as one every six months, to minimize the damage to your credit health.

9. Don’t cancel credit cards if you’re planning to make a big purchase

If you’re planning to finance a big purchase, such as a home or vehicle, in the next three to six months, it’s not wise to cancel any credit cards. If your utilization rate increases and your credit scores suddenly take a dive during the application process, you may ruin your chances of getting a low-interest loan.

If you’re planning to finance a big purchase, such as a home or vehicle, in the next three to six months, it’s not wise to cancel any credit cards.

Maria didn't mention if she's looking to use her great credit to borrow money any time soon. But it's an important issue that I recommend she consider.

10. Don’t cancel credit cards because you’ve made late payments

Never cancel a credit card with negative information, such as late payments or being in collections, thinking that it will disappear from your credit file. All credit accounts stay on your credit report for seven years from the date you became delinquent, even after you or a card issuer closes it. Accounts with only positive information remain in your credit file longer, for up to 10 years

What should you do with unused credit cards?

If you or Maria go through these dos and don’ts and decide that it’s better not to cancel a credit card, use it occasionally to make small purchases that you pay off in full. That keeps it active and allows you to continue adding positive information to your credit history.

However, I don’t recommend keeping a credit card that you’re not using responsibly or that tempts you to overspend. Taking a temporary hit to your credit might be worth it to prevent bigger problems in your financial life.

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20 Money-Saving Auto Insurance Discounts

If you own a car or truck, you know it can be expensive. Your loan payment, ongoing maintenance, fuel, taxes, and auto insurance can take a big chunk of your budget. According to a 2019 AAA study, the average cost to own and operate a new vehicle was $9,282 per year.

When you consider just auto insurance, the most recent data from the Insurance Information Institute shows that the average cost is $936 per year nationwide. However, where you live significantly affects your rate. New Jersey drivers pay the most, $1,309, and Iowa drivers pay the least, $628 per year.

Many personal attributes get factored into your base car insurance rates that you can't change. They include where you live, if you’re a homeowner, your age, gender, marital status, and credit rating.

Insurance savings are available, but many policyholders don’t know what discounts exist or that they need to ask for them.

However, when it comes to getting auto insurance discounts, you have more control. Insurance savings are available, but many policyholders don’t know what discounts exist or that they need to ask for them.

In this post, we’ll review 20 auto insurance discounts that can easily save you money. What’s available depends on your insurer and the state where you live.

But even if you only qualify for a few insurance discounts, they can add up. Then you can put your savings toward something more rewarding, such as taking a vacation or boosting your emergency fund.

20 Money-Saving Auto Insurance Discounts

See how many of the following discounts you qualify for.

1. Safe Driver Discount

Your driving history plays a significant role in how much you pay for car insurance. It makes sense that auto insurers love safe drivers and are willing to reward them for being claim-free.

If you have a clean record with no moving violations or at-fault accidents over the past three to five years, most insurers typically give you a nice discount.

Potential savings: 10% to 20%.

2. Educated Driver Discount

But what if you don’t have a squeaky-clean driving record? You may be able to redeem yourself by passing an in person or online defensive driving course. Insurers know that boosting your education and skills can make you a better driver.

Potential savings: 5% to 15%.

3. Affiliation Discount

Did you know that belonging to a particular group can qualify you for a car insurance discount? Depending on your insurer, it’s likely that they have hundreds of different partner organizations that allow members to get a break on the cost of car insurance.

They may include alumni associations, education organizations, certain fraternities or sororities, honor organizations, and recreational groups.

Potential savings: 5% to 10%.

4. Occupation Discount

There are also auto insurance discounts if you work in specific industries or occupations, such as being in the military, a teacher, medical professional, or government employee. Also, members of professional associations, such as unions and state bar associations, often qualify for reduced rates.

Potential savings: 5% to 15%.

5. Good Student Discount

An often-overlooked car insurance discount is for students who make good grades. You typically qualify if you’re in high school, college, or graduate school (up to age 26) and have at least a “B” average.

Insurers consider good students less of a risk when they’re behind the wheel. So, parents shouldn’t miss the opportunity to make it more affordable to insure their young drivers.

Potential savings: 10% to 25%.

6. Distant Student Discount

Another way to cut the cost of insurance for students who live away from home, no matter their grades, is to request a distant student discount. It applies if a student lives at least 100 miles away from home and doesn’t have an insured vehicle with them on campus. They’ll be covered when they come home for breaks, but at a reduced rate.

Potential savings: 5% to 25%.

7. Low Mileage Discount

Maybe you’re driving less for a new job or keeping a car in the garage more often. If your driving patterns change, be sure to let your car insurance company know. Vehicles that are on the road less have fewer claims, and that earns you a substantial insurance discount.

Potential savings: 5% to 15%.

8. Usage-Based Discount

Many insurers offer usage-based insurance or UBI, which adjusts your rate based on how you drive. Data may be collected using a device that you keep in your vehicle or that gets reported from a smartphone app.

UBI programs evaluate different driving behaviors such as the time of day you drive, your average speed, how hard you brake and corner, and your mileage. If you’re considered a safe driver, your discount gets applied at renewal.

Potential savings: 5% to 40%.

9. Loyalty Discount

Every auto insurer wants to retain existing customers and give you every reason not to switch. Being loyal to one company for at least a few years often results in substantial savings.

Potential savings: 10% to 25%.

10. Multi-Car Discount

If you have more than one vehicle in your household, insuring all of them with the same company usually gives you a multi-car discount. Insurers offer incentives to make sure they get as much of your business as possible.

Potential savings: 10% to 25%.

11. Bundling Discount

In addition to insuring more than one vehicle, getting different types of coverage with the same insurer is known as bundling or a multi-line discount. Many insurers cover more than just cars. You could get auto and homeowner, renters, or life insurance with the same company and score savings.

Potential savings: 5% to 15%.

12. Paperless Discount

Some insurers offer a discount if they don’t have to mail paper documents, such as your policy description and bills. Merely electing to be a paperless customer can qualify you for a small discount. You can get your information by email or an online account.

Potential savings: 3% to 5%.

13. Full Payment Discount

Instead of making monthly or semi-annual auto insurance payments, paying your entire annual premium upfront may qualify for savings.

Potential savings: 5% to 10%.

14. Automatic Payment Discount

Also, signing up for automatic premium payments using automatic withdrawals from your bank account can help you save a small amount.

Potential savings: 3% to 5%.

15. Online Quote Discount

Some auto insurers offer a discount if you sign up for a policy after getting an online quote. You could shop directly on a carrier’s website or an aggregator site, such as Bankrate.com.

Potential savings: 5% to 10%.

16. Switching Discount

Just like your existing auto insurer wants to keep you, others want to entice you. A switch or transfer discount is a promotional offer that cuts your rate for a time after you sign up with a new carrier.

Potential savings: 5% to 15%.

17. New Car Discount

If you purchase a new vehicle or one that’s less than three years old, many auto insurers offer a discount. Newer cars typically have modern safety features that reduce the likelihood that you’ll make a claim.

Potential savings: 5% to 10%.

18. Anti-Theft Discount

Car insurance companies want to help you prevent car theft, so most offer discounts for having any device, feature, or system that helps keep criminals away from your car. They could be factory-installed or an after-market product that you install.

Examples of systems that may lower your insurance rate include a GPS-based location system, such as OnStar, or a theft recovery system, such as LoJack. VIN etching, which is a permanent engraving of your vehicle’s identification number on the windshield and windows, may also qualify you for a discount.

Potential savings: 5% to 20%.

19. Safety Features Discount

Cars with modern safety features, such as anti-lock brakes, airbags, and rear-view cameras, are less likely to get in an accident and cost an insurer. So be sure to let them know every on-board safety device in your vehicle.

Potential savings: 5% to 30%.

20. Mature Driver Discount

If you’re at least age 55 and pass an in-person or online defensive driving course, you can qualify for a discount. Insurers know that maintaining good driving skills reduces your risk and makes you less likely to file a claim. Most insurers offer a mature driver discount in many states.

Potential savings: 5% to 30%.

Understanding Auto Insurance Discounts

The savings you get from auto insurance discounts are typically capped. For example, an insurer may only allow a total discount of 40% off your base premium, even if you qualify for multiple discounts.

You don't have to wait until your auto insurance policy is up for renewal to compare quotes.

Also, it’s important to remember that not all discounts are applied to your rate automatically. You may have to ask for discounts that an insurer wouldn’t know you qualify for, such as getting a new job or having a driver in your family who qualifies for a good student discount. And not every insurer may offer all of the discounts we’ve covered.

Auto insurance prices vary from company to company, and they can even change from month to month. You don't have to wait until your auto insurance policy is up for renewal to compare quotes. So, if you haven’t reviewed your car insurance lately or it’s been a while since you’ve shopped policies, you may be leaving money on the table.

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How Fixtures Can Save You Big on Water Usage

The easiest way to lower your water usage (and utility bill) is to screw low-flow aerators into your sink’s faucets. Aerators are easy to install, cost $5 or less, and can save you $50 or more per year. If the showerheads in your home were installed before 1994, you should seriously consider replacing them with their modern, energy-saving equivalents. Check out your local hardware store for low-flow alternatives, and remember that just because it’s low-flow doesn’t mean it has to be weak!

How to Use Less Water on Your Lawn

Have you ever set the sprinkler on the lawn and forgotten it was there? Purchasing a water timer will take care of that problem for you. Available at your local hardware store, these hose attachments work like egg timers and turn off the water supply after the amount of time you specify, usually between 10 minutes and two hours. It's a minimal investment with a worthwhile return!

Make Sure Your Toilet Doesn’t Leak

Does your toilet tank leak into the bowl after each flush? If it does, you could be wasting up to 73,000 gallons of water per year! To find out, put a drop of food coloring in the tank when it’s done flushing and see if it shows up in the bowl. If you see the color in the bowl, check out how to fix a toilet tank leak.

Savings with Each Flush

If you don’t have a modern, water-saving toilet, a great way to save water is to fill a plastic bottle or two with sand and put them in your toilet tank. You’ll use a lot less water with each flush. Just make sure you place them away from the operating mechanism. Also, don’t use bricks—they disintegrate and can damage your toilet.

Save Water During Each Shower

We’ve already shared with you some easy ways you can heat less water to lower your water bill. But what about the time spent waiting for the water to heat up? Keep a bucket in your shower to use to collect cold water as the shower is heating up. Then, use it to water plants, soak stained clothes, or other jobs that you don’t need warm water for. Meanwhile, quit fiddling with the knobs on your shower to find where you want it before it gets hot. Find your favorite setting, then mark where the knob is pointing on the tile with a dab of nail polish or a waterproof marker. This water-preserving trick is great for kids, who often take a long time adjusting the water before they get in.

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Does your teenager take 45-minute-long showers? If you have teenagers, try giving them an incentive to take shorter showers. A great one is five minutes added on to their curfew (or phone time) for every minute they shave off their showering time. 

For more ways to save money from all over the internet, check out our Saving Money board on Pinterest. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook!