What happens if you don’t activate a credit card?

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While signing up for a new credit card is exciting—who doesn’t love cash back and travel points?—there are a variety of reasons you may end up not activating your card when it arrives.

In some cases, you might simply forget to activate the card, but you if you’ve decided you no longer want the card, you should think twice before you just throw it in a drawer.

Let’s look at what happens if you don’t activate a credit card, what to do if you miss your chance to activate it and what the possible downsides are of skipping activation.

What happens if you don’t activate a credit card?

We all get busy and it’s easy to let that pile of mail on the kitchen counter grow. If your new credit card is sitting in that pile, you’re likely wondering, “what happens if I don’t activate a credit card?”

If the reason you haven’t activated your credit card is that you’ve decided you don’t want it anymore, ignoring it isn’t the solution. Not activating a credit card is not the same as closing it. Still, the repercussions of not activating a card are something you’ll likely want to avoid.

You still owe any annual fees

One of the most immediate impacts you may feel when you don’t activate a credit card is paying an annual fee without enjoying the cardholder benefits.

Your account is opened when your application is approved, so even if you don’t activate the credit card you receive in the mail, you still have an open account and you’ll still need to pay the annual fee associated with it.

This applies to secured credit cards that come with fees as well. If you forget to pay this annual fee, it can count as a missed payment which can hurt your credit score.

You may start accruing interest and late fees

Interest and late fees can also come into play here. If you transfer a balance over to your new card and don’t activate it, you may find it’s easy to forget that you have a balance and interest and late fees can begin to mount.

Your credit score can take a hit

Your credit score can also be negatively impacted if the credit card issuer reports your late payments and a high credit utilization rate (if you transferred a balance you’re not paying down) to the credit bureaus.

As soon as you open a new credit card account, a report with your credit limit and other pertinent info is sent to the three credit reporting bureaus, so managing your card is something you need to jump on right away.

How long do you have to activate a credit card?

When considering how long you have to activate a credit card, it’s important to check in with your credit card issuer to nail down the exact time frame. In many cases, you have 45 to 60 days to activate a new credit card.

Some lenders will reach out if you don’t activate your credit card during the activation period to confirm you received your card but this is not a guarantee. The clock starts ticking the day you’re approved for the card, as that’s the day your account opens.

If you don’t activate your card during the activation period, you may need to contact your credit card issuer to request a new card so you can activate the new one instead.

If you have a credit card that will expire soon, keep an eye on your mailbox. Credit card issuers send replacement credit cards as much as six months in advance of your expiration date. You don’t need to wait to activate this new card—you can activate it as soon as you get it. Make sure you destroy your old card as soon as you activate the new one.

Ideally, you’ll always activate your credit card right away to avoid running into any activation issues. To activate your credit card, either follow the instructions you receive in your acceptance letter for online activation or call the phone number on your card. I

f you choose to activate your card by phone, it can be helpful to make that call from the same phone number listed on your application so the credit card company can more easily confirm your identity. If you’re an existing customer, you may be able to activate a new card through your issuer’s mobile app.

How to cancel a credit card that was never activated

The process of how to cancel a credit card that was never activated varies by each credit card issuer but generally, the issuer will reach out to you if you wait too long to activate your new credit card.

If the credit card company calls you, this call can serve two purposes. On their end, they’re hoping to remind you to activate your credit card. On your end, this call gives you an easy opportunity to let them know you want to close your account.

If you want to close your account, you shouldn’t wait for this call but it is a good time to do it if you forgot to cancel the card.

To cancel a credit card proactively, you can call your credit card’s customer service line and inform them that you want to close your account.

First, confirm with the customer service rep that there aren’t any fees associated with canceling your credit card. You’ll also want to check that you don’t have a balance on the card (more likely the case with a balance transfer card) before you close it.

If you want to get any fees waived (like an annual fee) on a new card, also confirm with the customer service rep that those fees will be dropped and get confirmation of this in writing, as well as confirmation of your request to close your account.

For extra confirmation, you can send a letter to the credit card company via recorded mail stating the date the account was closed, as well as your name, the last four digits of your account and any other important details.

Once your account is closed, properly dispose of the credit card. You can do this yourself or return it to the issuer in person or by mail.

The bottom line

There aren’t really any benefits associated with not activating a credit card. It’s easy to assume that not activating a new credit card is the same as not opening a new credit account but by the time you’ve been sent a credit card in the mail, the account is already open.

Ignoring this new credit card can lead to paying fees without reaping any of your cardholder benefits. In addition, you can damage your credit score if you forget to make payments on interest or fees and you may have to go through the hassle of requesting a new card if you wait too long to activate the first one. If you want to cancel your credit card, it’s best to call the credit card issuer right away.