What happens if you close an unused credit card account?

What happens if you close an unused credit card account?
The credit card industry wants you to have lots of plastic. Resist the temptation. (Associated Press)

A credit-card query from Joann:

"I paid off four credit cards last year and I wonder if I should close out the accounts or just leave them open. I don't want it to hurt my credit score."


Excellent question -- and one many people face as they try to get better control of their finances.

It really comes down to how many credit cards the typical consumer needs. God knows the plastic industry wants us to have as many as we can carry.

According to the Federal Reserve, Visa and MasterCard charge plates accounted for an estimated 432 million cards in 2013. American Express and Discover Card Services added an additional 117 million cards to the mix.

Credit card solicitations mailed to consumers hit an all-time high of 7 billion in 2006, the Fed said. As of 2013, the total was about half that number.

A Gallup survey last year found that the average American has 2.6 credit cards. Eighteen percent of us have up to four cards, 9% have up to six and 7% carry seven or more pieces of plastic.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer for how many credit cards you should have. My advice is to keep the number low -- and resist all those offers of discounts if you open a store account.

Me, I carry two cards. I have my main, all-purpose one that provides a decent all-around rewards program. And I have my backup card in case that one isn't accepted by a merchant. (I know what you're about to ask, but I can't endorse any particular cards.)

Some financial planners will say there's no harm in maintaining unused credit card accounts. They'll say it shows lenders that you can handle credit responsibly.

My advice is to ditch unused cards. Yes, closing an account can slightly lower your credit score, some experts say, but it's a temporary effect. Keeping your financial nose clean will bring your score back up in a month or two.

And this, too, will show responsible behavior.

If you have a consumer question, email me at or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.