The Help Desk

Your tough questions. MONEY's smart answers.
Presented by

Should I close the credit card accounts I never use?

March 27, 2012: 6:00 AM ET

I have a large number of open credit card accounts with $0 balances. I open them for the promotional offers, and then I pay them off and never use them again. I was advised that if I close them, I would lower my credit score. I only have one credit card that I use. How can I handle this without lowering my credit score?
–- Name withheld

You heard correctly—closing unused credit cards can lower your credit scores, but not in all circumstances. "If you keep the balance on the one card you use to less than 10% of the card's credit limit, then you're safe to close the other accounts," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at "If, however, your balance consistently makes up more than 10 percent of the credit limit, then consider leaving at least one of your unused cards open."

Basically, one part of your credit score is based on how much of your total aggregate credit you're using at any one time—or your utilization ratio. When you close other accounts, you essentially raise your utilization ratio, since there's less available credit to offset the charges you're making. But if you close your other cards and you're still maintaining a ratio of 10% or less on your remaining card, you should be in the clear.

--Kate Ashford

Got a question for the help desk? Send it to

Join the Conversation
Help Desk

Got a question about your money? We want to hear it! Each week we're answering your questions on CNN, Headline News and

Your email or phone number won't be published; we'll use it to get in touch if we need more information about your question.
Help Desk Video
  • NEXT
    Not enough money in America's 401(k)s
    Despite the surging stock market bringing balances to record highs, the average Fidelity 401(k) account has less than $100,000 in it. That's just not enough. Play
  • NEXT
    Explaining Obama's myRA
    President Obama unveiled a new savings plan for retirement accounts, aimed at encouraging people to start building their nest egg. But how exactly does it work? Play
  • NEXT
    Tricks on how to save in your 20s
    Saving for your retirement in your 20s doesn't have to be a financial burden. Prioritizing your expenses is usually the first step in building a nest egg. Play
  • BACK
    Don't get fooled by Black Friday sales
    Here are some of the tricks that retailers use to make you think you're getting a deal. Keep an eye out for them while shopping this Black Friday. Play
Best Tips
Some of the nation's leading business owners, investors, and thinkers share their thoughts on rebuilding your wealth. More
These strategies can help you manage the challenges -- both emotional and financial -- of helping an aging parent from afar. More
You don't need to be fanatical to get to 780. Those in the know say these moves matter most. More
Featured Newsletters

Tips for saving and spending smarter.

Search This Column
View all entries from this: Week, Month
Help Desk
More help for your career, your investments and your budget.
Powered by VIP.