Dear Credit Card Adviser,
I have 13 credit cards and want to pay some down or off. Which ones do I pay first for a better credit score?
Major credit scoring models, like FICO or VantageScore, aren’t going to reward you for paying down one particular card over another based on brand or issuer.
However, you’re most likely to see an improvement in your credit score if you prioritize paying down cards that are bumping up against their credit limit.
Your credit utilization ratio — how much debt you are carrying versus how much credit has actually been extended to you — is a major component of your credit score.
As a good rule of thumb, “consumers should aim to keep (credit card) balances under 30 percent of the allotted limit,” says Jeff Richardson, a spokesman for credit scoring model VantageScore.
For instance, you would be better off paying down a $900 balance on a card with a $1,000 credit limit than a $900 balance on a card with a $3,000 limit because the first card is well over the 30 percent utilization rate.
Note: The lower the utilization rate (on each card individually as well as collectively), the better your credit score is apt to be, so your aim should be to get balances down as low as possible.
Keep in mind, however, that this type of prioritization strictly applies to your credit score.
“A consumer would need to gauge for themselves whether certain cards with higher interest rates should be paid first,” Richardson says. That strategy, of course, could help you pay down existing debts quicker since interest will accrue faster on the cards with higher annual percentage rates.
The Bankrate credit card payoff calculator can assist in prioritizing payments by their balance and associated APR.
Regardless of what strategy best suits your needs, be sure to make the minimum payments on all of the cards with outstanding balances, since a missed payment is the quickest way to cause your credit score to plummet.
As a side note, it’s probably a good idea to avoid applying for more credit cards.
While there’s no magic number regarding how many credit cards a person should have, it’s not a good idea to carry high balances on any credit cards, let alone 13 of them.
Focus on paying all of your existing balances down in lieu of taking out more credit that could potentially add to your debt woes. After that, you can decide whether closing one or two of them is worth the potential hit to your credit score.
Get more news, money-saving tips and expert advice by signing up for a free Bankrate newsletter.
Ask the adviser