Answer Man: Should I rip up the credit card that I don't use?

News-DemocratJuly 29, 2013 

Q. I am no longer using one of my VISA credit cards because I received a better rebate offer from my new one. I was going to cancel the old one, but was told by a couple of people that if I did, it will affect my credit rating. They say I should keep it and not use it. Why would canceling a credit card hurt my credit rating? -- Sharron Lindsey, of Belleville

A. You'd think those agencies that scrutinize every penny of your financial history would give you credit for canceling a card, thus reducing the amount of debt you can rack up.

Life, however, is rarely that simple. For reasons I'll explain, many who cancel lines of credit do risk at least a temporary dip in their credit score, which can lead to less favorable loan terms -- or no loan at all if the score drops too low.

But for others, canceling a card not only won't do much harm, it also may be to their advantage. I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I'll bet you might be in this latter group. Now, the pros and cons:

Canceling a card negatively affects your credit score in two major ways. First, those credit reporting agencies look at your credit history, the longer the better. So if you had that card for, say, 20 years, you'll be taking a bite out of the length of your history by cutting it up, a minus.

Moreover, agencies also want to see that you aren't using more than a certain percentage of your credit limit -- say 30 or 35 percent. So let's say you have a $4,000 balance on three cards with credit limits of $3,000, $4,000 and $5,000. Your debt-to-limit ratio would be 33 percent ($4,000 divided by $12,000), which is acceptable.

But now let's say you cancel the $5,000 card. Even though you weren't using it, your same outstanding balance of $4,000 suddenly skyrockets to nearly 60 percent of your remaining credit limit of $7,000, which would set off alarms at the credit agencies. See the potential problems?

That said, you have certain advantages to consider, too. Since you've replaced one card with another, your total credit limit likely didn't change much, if at all. So even though you snipped the length of your history a bit, it's probably not going to affect your score enough to lose sleep over, especially if you're an older person with a low balance-to-limit ratio and a long, squeaky-clean credit history.

Even if it did slide a few points temporarily, it may not make much difference. Sure, younger folks just starting out will want the highest score possible when they go for home and car loans. But if you're not contemplating buying a retirement chalet in the Swiss Alps or other major purchase, you may not even notice it.

Plus, there's one big reason to cancel: peace of mind. With ID theft always in the headlines, you may be better off to cancel that account because you would be less likely to detect fraud since you have no reason to monitor it.

I myself have canceled a couple of cards for that very reason and my score remains about 800, although every case is different. You should make sure that your credit report says that you chose to close the account, not the bank.

Q. MetroLink says its Red Line is being repaired soon, which will delay travel times. I was not aware there were two different lines, because I rarely use it. But I am soon taking MetroLink from the Memorial Hospital station to the airport. Am I going to be affected? -- T.M., of Belleville

A. The only thing you have to worry about is packing your suitcases and remembering your plane ticket.

For starters, the only MetroLink riders who are affected are those who must travel between the Southwestern Illinois College and Shiloh-Scott stations after 8 p.m. They are the last two stations on the far eastern end of the MetroLink Red Line so you don't have to give it a second thought. All other stations will continue to follow the normal schedule, which you can download from www.metrostlouis.org.

And, here's an added bonus: You don't have to wait for the train to show its colors, either. The Red Line runs from Scott-Shiloh to the airport while the Blue Line starts at Fairview Heights and heads to Shrewsbury. Since you're boarding at Memorial, you can hop on any train and make yourself comfortable for what I hope will be a fun trip.

Today's trivia

Who is the only singer to win four consecutive Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: The shortest verse in the New International Version of the Bible is Job 3:2 "He said," which is even shorter (by three letters) than "Jesus wept" at John 11:35 in the King James and other Bibles. (Of course, Mark 9:44 and Mark 9:46 don't even exist in the NIV, which would make them even shorter.) The longest verse is the approximately 80-word behemoth (depending on version) at Esther 8:9 about Mordecai issuing a proclamation enabling the Jews to defend themselves.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service