credit cards

How to cancel a card

There's always a right way and a wrong way to do things, and that goes for canceling credit cards.

Whatever your reason for getting rid of a credit card you'll want to make sure you do it thoroughly and that no harm is done to your credit report.

Pay off the balance

First, don't try to cancel a card while you're paying the balance. Cancel the card only after you have paid off the balance in full.

"There isn't a need to cancel that account until you're through with it," says Jean Brannan, community outreach coordinator for Consumer Credit Counseling Service in West Palm Beach, Fla. She adds that you have to employ self-discipline and stop using a card while you're paying off the balance.

Follow these steps

OK, let's say you have paid off a card's balance and you want to cancel the account. Brannan suggests that you do the following, in order:
  • Notify the card issuer by phone.
  • Follow up by notifying the card issuer in writing.
  • Get a copy of your credit report and make sure it's accurate.
  • Repeat, if necessary.

Notify the issuer by phone

Your issuer's customer service number will be printed on the back of the card, on the monthly statement, or both. Call that number, confirm that your balance is zero, and notify the customer service representative that you're canceling the card.

Do not call to cancel a card if you still have a balance. If the card issuer knows you are thinking about leaving, it could raise your interest rates to the maximum allowable by law as a penalty for closing the account, if you do so with an outstanding balance.

Some companies will allow you to cancel without even talking to a customer service representative. Others will transfer you to a special department for the sole purpose of trying to convince you to not cancel your card.

Listen to a counteroffer

Steve Rhodes, past president of Myvesta.org, a financial crisis treatment center, suggests you spend a little time listening to the representative. They might be willing to lower your interest rate, offer a two-for-one airline ticket, or upgrade your standard card to platinum. Carefully consider the ramifications of keeping the card open. If you are in the process of reducing the number of credit cards you carry, then cancel a different card.

If no such offers are made, or appeal to you, then go ahead with the cancellation and do not allow the representative to convince you otherwise.

Follow up with a letter

Write a short letter to the card issuer. "If you can get a name so you can send it directly to someone, that is better," Brannan says.

The letter should say that you're closing your account and that you want your credit record to reflect the fact that you requested that the account be closed. Provide your name, address and account number.

Send the letter by certified mail or return receipt requested. That way you can prove that the card issuer received your letter, Brannan says.

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