By Karen Lynch | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | January 29, 2021 in Credit
Many people are surprised to learn that a closed credit card account remains on your credit report for up to 10 years if the account was in good standing when you canceled it, but only seven years if it wasn’t – if, say, it was closed for missed payments. Over the long run, having a closed account on your credit report can be good for your credit score or not – again, depending on the status of the account when it was closed.
But there’s something else to know. There are “side effects” to closing a credit card or installment loan account that are more immediate and might temporarily lower your credit score at the time the account is canceled – no matter how it was canceled. For example, one of these side effects might be an increase in your credit utilization rate – that is, how much you’re using of the total credit available to you – and a higher utilization rate usually means a lower credit score.
Credit card companies and other lenders are interested in your closed accounts as part of your credit history. In the typical course of business, lenders supply information on your spending and payments to credit reporting agencies, which summarize it all into credit reports that are used to calculate your credit score. Then, lenders refer back to these reports and scores to assess the risk of approving your application for a new credit card, or other type of loan, and to set the interest rate in line with that risk.
Information from closed accounts may help lenders get deeper insight into a person’s past debt management.
A closed account on your credit report shouldn’t worry you if the account was well-managed and in good standing at the time it was closed. Having it remain there as a positive reflection on your credit history and a track record of on-time payments generally helps your credit score. It stays on your credit report for up to 10 years.
However, any negative information about a closed account on your credit report could lower your score. This can be the case if you made late payments on the account, for instance, or it was referred to a debt collector. Under federal regulation, this negative type of information generally stays on your credit report for seven years.1
Even if you’re closing an account that’s in good standing, though, it can temporarily increase your credit utilization rate, as described above, which counts for 30% of your credit score. There are two other possible side effects of closing an account:
The good news in most of these situations is that your score should rebound in a few months as long as your payments continue on time.2
It’s not easy to get a closed account off your credit report, unless the information is inaccurate. According to the National Consumer Law Center, one error that comes up from time to time is a change in the actual age of a debt that has gone to a collection agency, or multiple reports of the same debt going to collection.3 If you find information on your report that you believe is inaccurate, you can send a letter to both your lender and to the credit reporting agency – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides sample letters to help.4 For more, see “Removing Closed Accounts from Your Credit Report.”
If your account was closed due to unusual personal circumstances and you’ve paid all your bills in full and on time since then, you might ask your lender to remove a closed account from your record as a gesture of goodwill. But the lender is under no obligation to do so.
Sometimes, it just makes sense to close an account, even if you face a temporary dip in your credit score. Maybe closing the account will help you control spending, for example, or maybe the card or loan in question is costing you fees or interest that you’d rather not pay. Credit reporting agencies suggest taking a thoughtful approach to closing accounts. For instance, if you’re about to seek a mortgage for a new home, you might not want to close any accounts just beforehand. Canceling multiple accounts should be done in a gradual, planned fashion to avoid sending negative signals to potential lenders.
To close a credit card account, you’ll want to pay off your account balance, redeem or transfer any rewards, and contact your card issuer’s customer service department to request account closure – either by phone or in writing – rather than simply cutting your card in half. Usually, you should receive a confirmation letter in about 10 days.5 To close a loan account, all you have to do is pay off the loan in full. Your lender will generally contact you via mail or email to confirm the loan has been paid off.
Because closed accounts remain on your credit report for so long, that seemingly minor detail can take on greater significance if it’s not approached thoughtfully. Credit reports and credit scores don’t only play a big role in your ability to borrow money affordably. Insurance companies, landlords, and even potential employers often consult them, as well.
1 “Consumer Reports: What Information Furnishers Need to Know,” Federal Trade Commission
2 “Does Closing an Account Hurt Your Credit?,” Experian
3 “Automated Injustice Redux,” National Consumer Law Center
4 “Sample letters to dispute information on a credit report,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
5 “Closing Bank Accounts and Your Credit Score,” TransUnion