How to close a credit account

I got the idea for this post when I blogged about closing my airmiles mastercard account and possibly also cancelling my line of credit. I think many (most? all?) of us are probably a little over-exposed on credit. This means we have the opportunity to borrow more than we can afford and we’re targets for identity theft — think an identity thief can get far with a maxed out credit card? Nope, it gets declined everywhere, but an empty credit card is a gem. Now I’m not saying go max out all your credit cards in order to protect yourself against identity theft, but I do encourage you to be aware of what’s available to a thief if they managed to hack your accounts.

How to cancel a credit card and close an account

1. Pay off or make a plan to pay off the balance. Please note that closing an account or cancelling a credit card does NOT clear you of any debt. Personally, I always like to completely pay off a card before I close an account, but you can often close an account before paying off the balance. All this means, however, is that you can’t add anymore to what you owe and you must still pay off the remaining debt.

2. Watch the account. Even though I didn’t have a balance on my credit card, I left the account open for another month just to see if there were any purchases I had forgotten about, any surprise outstanding interest or fees, or anything else. After 30 days of no activity, I proceeded to the next step.

3. Call the customer service number. Tell them you want to cancel your credit card and close the account. If they try to talk you out of it, be firm. They will confirm over the phone that the account has been closed and tell you to go ahead and cut up your credit card — that’s the fun part! The best I’ve seen in debt destruction is this viking funeral held for a credit card. If you’re not as creative you can do what I did and just hack it into bits with scissors and throw it in the garbage.

4. Wait for a letter of confirmation that says the account has been closed. You should get this within 2 weeks of making the call. If you owe anything more on the account, it will tell you here as well as instructions as to when and how it needs to be paid. KEEP THIS LETTER! File it away and/or scan it to keep an electronic copy, you might need it later. I think no one has worse luck than Krystal from Give Me Back My Five Bucks who saw repeated charges to her closed American Express account. Uncool, American Express!

5. Check your credit report. You should be getting your free credit report at least once a year to make sure you’ve got your borrowing ducks in a row. All open AND closed credit accounts should show up on your credit report. When I got mine last summer, it still listed and confirmed that I had closed a department store credit card 4 years ago. Make sure the account you cancelled shows up and shows up closed!