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How to switch credit cards

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It can happen to anyone—you think you have the best credit card for your lifestyle and spending patterns, only to find out that it’s time for a change. Switching cards with your issuer, also known as a product change, is a good way to turn a card that isn’t working for you anymore into a card that offers the rewards, perks or fees you want. You get a better-fitting product without adding an extra account and (most of the time) without a hard inquiry affecting your credit score.

Fortunately, it’s both possible and easy to switch credit cards with your bank or credit card issuer. In many cases, you can upgrade or downgrade credit cards online or place a quick call to your issuer. Here’s what you need to know about switching your credit card.

Why should I switch my credit card?

If your credit card isn’t meshing with how you spend your money and how you use your rewards, then it could be a good idea to explore other cards from your issuer. If you find one that works for you, then you should consider changing your credit card.

Bankrate editor Cathleen McCarthy wanted to start earning rewards for her spending. “I changed from the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card to the Citi® Double Cash Card a few years ago. Now that I get 2 percent cash back, I use it any time I can’t get a higher rewards rate with one of my other cards.” She adds, “It was easy to do. I just called and asked for that specific card. I was sorry I didn’t do it sooner!”

In some cases, you may want to upgrade your card to one with better perks and benefits, even if it means paying an annual fee. Perhaps you applied for a rewards credit card when you could only afford the no-annual-fee or lower-fee version, but now you’d like to upgrade.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, senior director of content for Bankrate Credit Cards, did this because he saw a chance for a better rewards structure than his travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, offered him. “I originally applied for Sapphire Preferred thinking the Chase Sapphire Reserve® was too expensive for me. But a few months into having the card, when I did my first rewards redemption on the Ultimate Rewards portal, I quickly realized I’d be better off with Sapphire Reserve’s [higher redemption rate in the portal].”

Finally, you may want to switch your card because you’ve outgrown a starter card, like a secured credit card. That’s what one of our writers, Ana Staples, did. “I upgraded the Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card to the Capital One Quicksilver, which became my first rewards card.”

Ana explains that she was already pre-approved for the non-secured version of the card, so the upgrade process was smooth. She even received a credit limit increase just a few months after the change.

Choosing to change your current card rather than apply fresh has several benefits. First of all, you won’t end up with a card that no longer suits you just sitting in your wallet. Plus, your credit score won’t be hit by the hard credit inquiry that usually comes with a new card application. Instead, you’ll get to maintain your account history while simultaneously adding a better card for you to your wallet.

How to change credit cards

Changing credit cards with your bank is relatively simple. Credit card issuers often send out targeted offers encouraging users to upgrade to a higher-reward credit card, and you can take advantage of those offers when they come your way. You can also contact your bank or credit card issuer directly when you’re ready to make the change.

Decide what kind of card you want

Think about why you want to switch credit cards. Are you hoping to change from a cash back credit card to a travel rewards card, or are you interested in swapping to a card with no annual fee?

Contact your card issuer

Once you’ve decided which card you want, it’s time to contact your bank or credit card issuer. Sometimes, you can see upgrade offers right in your online account. However, contacting your credit card issuer over the phone can ensure all your questions are answered before you switch.

Ask the right questions before you switch

Before you switch credit cards with your bank, make sure to ask the right questions. Here are some topics you might want to bring up during the conversation:

  • Will my credit limit be different after the switch?
  • What interest rate will I receive on the new card?
  • Will the switch involve a hard pull or credit inquiry?
  • What will happen to the rewards I’ve earned on my existing credit card? Will they transfer to the new card, or do I need to redeem my rewards before switching?
  • What about the balance on my current card? Will I need to pay it off in full before switching, or will it transfer to the new card?
  • Will I be eligible for any sign-up bonuses?
  • Will I get a new account number?

The answers you get should help you decide whether you really want to switch credit cards or whether you’d prefer to open a new credit card instead. In the end, your bank or credit card issuer wants to keep you as a customer, so feel free to try and negotiate in this process if you don’t like the answers to some of these questions.

Often, talking with a customer service representative over the phone could prompt them to offer you bonuses or perks that you wouldn’t get if you had started the process online.

What you should know before switching credit cards

Before you make the switch from one credit card to another, make sure you’ve got a plan in place. You’ll want to consider how the switch might affect your credit score, what to do with any teaser interest rates you get offered and whether you’ll be able to transition your rewards from one card to another.

Understand how it might affect your credit score

Switching credit cards might not have any effect on your credit score—or it might have a bigger effect than you realize. Here’s how a credit card switch could hurt or help your credit score:

  • Credit limit: If you switch to a credit card with a higher credit limit, your credit score could go up. Why? Because 30 percent of your credit score comes from credit utilization: the amount of credit you’re using versus the amount of credit available to you. With more credit available to you, your credit utilization should go down, boosting your credit score—as long as you don’t increase the revolving balance on your new card. That said, if your credit limit is lower on your new card, then your utilization will be higher, and you could see your score decrease. To quickly determine your current ratio, check out Bankrate’s credit utilization ratio calculator.
  • Credit inquiry: In some cases, a bank or credit card issuer will swap your credit card without doing a hard pull on your credit. This is because the issuer already knows you’re unlikely to be a credit risk. If the issuer does a hard inquiry, you might see your credit score take a small, temporary dip of five points or fewer.

Know what will happen to your credit card rewards

If you’re upgrading or downgrading a credit card within the same rewards structure (going from a travel card with an annual fee to one with no fee, for example), you might be able to keep your rewards when you switch cards. If you’re switching between rewards structures (going from a cash back card to a travel card, for example), you’ll want to talk to your credit card issuer about what will happen to your current rewards.

Remember: If you switch credit cards with the same bank or credit card issuer, you might not be eligible for the sign-up bonus on your new card. These bonuses are often reserved for new customers, not existing customers who switch cards. However, your credit card issuer might be able to offer you a bonus to reward you for your loyalty, so be sure to ask about this if you are making the change over the phone.

The bottom line

Switching your credit card could seem like a huge hassle you don’t want to be bothered with. But it can make sense if your current card isn’t meeting your needs—whether you are paying an annual fee and not using the benefits or missing out on better rewards that can help you meet certain financial goals. However, once you know how simple it is to switch and the questions to ask in the process, you can be confident that the credit card you choose will work for you.

Written by
Aja McClanahan
Personal Finance Writer
Aja McClanahan is an author, blogger and speaker on personal finance and entrepreneurship. Aja is the author of "How a Mother Should Talk About Money with Her Daughter."
Edited by
Senior Editor, Credit Card Product News