Use Your Inactive Credit Cards At Least Once A Year

I just got a letter from Washington Mutual / Chase telling me that they have closed my credit card account with them effective November 14th, 2008. That’s nearly a month ago! The reason stated was simply that I hadn’t used it in over 12 months. I normally wouldn’t care too much, but this is a relatively old card (back from when they were Providian) which helps your credit score and it also gave me a free FICO score update each month. Doh! I might call them and see if there is anything that can be done.

Now, it’s totally within their rights to do this, but it is kind of annoying and not the best customer service in my opinion. Last month, I got a similar letter from Citibank, but it warned me that if I didn’t use it within a month, it would be closed. So I just used it quickly and everything was fine. That seems like a more reasonable response.

The easy solution is to remember to use each of your credit cards at least once per year. I would simply use it to pay $5 towards your cell phone or cable bill online, since they let you do multiple partial payments. Then mark the card and tuck it away again.  Here’s a solid list of the best credit cards for 2012 to get you started.

Comments

  1. You are right, that is bad customer service. They should at least give you a notice on what their requirements are for keeping the card, before they cancel it. Still the large banks are so horrible at service I would rather not deal with them at all. But it is a good idea to have at least 2 credit cards, I think (just for safety and convince). If one gets canceled… you still have one to use. Just use credit unions, they are usually much more customer friendly.

  2. The same thing happened to me with my first Citi student card. I called them, and they said that they could re-open it (with the original account number and age), but that it would cost a hard credit check.

    Is it worth it? I know it would be a temporary hit, but I’m planning on getting a mortgage soon. Is the bump in average age worth the loss of a hard pull? Hmm…

  3. The banks are hemorrhaging money and they barely have enough money for collateral for the loans they already have outstanding, and you think it’s bad customer service that they’re closing lines of credit that aren’t already in use?

    I think it’s simply responsible and something that should have been done a long time ago.

  4. Susannah – Closing lines due to higher credit risk is one thing. They can easily close lines that are in use.

    But here, if I made a purchase in October, somehow I am a better credit risk and thus I get to keep my credit line? That doesn’t make any sense. Seems like a flawed risk model to me.

  5. Jognathan please let us know if they re-open it for you. My WaMU card was also closed for inactivity.

  6. @ Jonathan -

    No I think its more like what Susannah was saying. A lot of banks and credit issuers are just really nervous right now period and so they are trying to reduce their exposure to risk any way they can. One way is to close unused accounts because customers can’t really argue that too much and it helps reduce the amount the bank could potentially be on the hook for.

  7. They did the same thing to me! I agree with you- I think they should have sent a letter beforehand. Like you, I also was with Providian, and loved the free FICO score tracking. I think it was a very bad move on Wamu/Chase’s behalf. My credit score actually went down 25 points recently, and I think this has something to do with it. I’m not happy!

    I did email them to see if there was anything they could do, and they said that the card was closed and basically too bad, so sad. I can forward you the email if you’d like.

  8. The same thing happened to me with my Citi card. I decided not to use it before their closing date and they ended up closing the account due to inactivity.

    Then about a month later they sent me a letter stating that they were going to open a new Citi account for me unless I called and specifically requested that the account not be opened. I called them and requested that they don’t open the new account. A week later I received another letter confirming that the new account would not be opened and that my old (closed) account had been re-opened by citi.

    Finally, last month they sent me another letter saying that they were going to close the account again due to inactivity. I called them and said if they close it, then they need to keep it closed this time. Sure enough they decided not to close it.

    It seems that Citi isn’t trying to reduce their risk, but merely attempting to spur their inactive card holders into using their cards (and generate more revenue).

  9. Does closing a credit card shorten your “length of credit history” at all? Does the closed account still appear on your credit report and count towards your “length of credit history”?

  10. Meh………I got a letter recently from Citi that they did the same thing on the dividends card. It was a good card at first, but then got worse. I am not up for rewarding bait/switch so I let it go. It was only a couple years old.

    On the flip side, I’d actually LIKE to close my Discover account and may just do it. I use their “Profile Protect” service to monitor my credit as my wallet was stolen years ago, but I notice that I don’t have any credit worthiness from when I was originally their customer over 13 years ago.

    I used to be on their “Private Issue” account and regular plain jane discover account before that (circa 1995) but my current cards (open road) only recognize me as a customer since ’05 and I think that’s a bit of bull since they change their rewards all the time & it’s why I have the card I do now (gas card isn’t even the same reward as before, thus my desire to kill the card).

    I stick w/ my Emigrant direct card (1.4% on everything….period) and my Costco Amex card. The reward on the ED card stays and the CoAmex card just get better & better. THAT’S the kind of credit vehicle I’ll reward w/ lots of use!!!

  11. Happening alot to people. Very annnoying.

    It was only a $6k limit card though. But i want it back for free credit score.

    The other annoying thing. My wife and i have $35k in wamu/chase banks, 800+ credit scores, no debt.

    So much for them wanting to keep customers.

  12. I was just going to ask you this question and here you posted it. I got a letter yesterday from Chase about my sonycard being closed as I did not use it for a while(>24m). But this is my oldest card and I am very unhappy about this.

  13. ThePessimist says:

    Closing unused cards isn’t anything new. Citi did this to me several years ago, and stunningly didn’t even send me a note! The first I learned of it was when I tried to use the card and it was declined.

    Also, while I don’t know if it’s true, I’ve heard from multiple sources that FICO score calculations only include cards that have been reported within the past 6 months. If that’s the case, it wasn’t helping your score anyway.

  14. hayhehes – I agree that’s the likely reason, but I think there are better ways to do it. For example, let us know the policy so we can choose which cards to close, or have a reduced credit line. Having a card “closed by issuer” tends to be worse than “closed by consumer” on your credit score.

  15. Or you could begin to wean yourself from credit score fixation and not keep extra credit cards around. We are playing right into the hands of a manipulative credit industry with behavior like this. It’s time to fight back.

  16. I try to use each card at least once a year, precisely because one of them was closed 3 years ago due to inactivity. Some banks have been doing this since before the crisis began. If you don’t use the card ever, they don’t see a benefit for themselves keeping you as a customer.

    BTW, does any one know how often a Discovery card has to be used to keep it open?

  17. This exact same thing happened to me. My card was canceled as of Nov 14th by Chase. This was the old Providian card. I called them up to inquire and just for the heck of it (or I was just pissed) I asked for them to send me the card agreement. I did not ask to reinstate the card, since, that would have meant hit on my credit rating.
    One thing I did ask them was, when were they going to report this to the rating agencies and what will be in the report. I was told the report would say ‘closed by the card holder’ so as not to affect my credit rating. I think it would be prudent to check the credit report to make sure the correct thing has been reported.

  18. The same thing just happened to me. On a whim I ordered a TransUnion FICO score the other day and learned that my GE Care Credit card, which I opened during a pet emergency, had been “closed by grantor” in September. They never sent me a notice to tell me they had closed it.

    It was an account that had been inactive for almost four years, with a 2K credit line, so no big deal. But I am guessing them closing it lowered my score by 5-10 points.

    I ran out the next day and charged $9 on my Chase Mastercard that has been inactive for over a year.

  19. I recently had a credit limit reduction on one of my lesser used cards. Not completely sure why b/c I have a great credit score, but I think some of the cheap credit lenders are “reeling in” higher credit limits and unused accounts to reduce their risk of defaulting.

  20. This is definitely happening more often right now, it must be tied to the economy. I have a card I’ve had for 6 or 7 years and never ever use, chase never closed it. Then this month I got the same notice, closed for inactivity. I guess they want to reduce the available credit as much as they can, of course on my other chase card they raised the limit the same month!

  21. I make sure to use my cards once every 6 months or so. If it’s been really long time, I will make a note on the calendar and on that day/week I will make sure to use one of my inactive cards to buy lunch or whatever.

  22. This made me curious, so I checked my credit report, and noticed an old navy credit card that had been closed without my knowledge, and all it says is “paid and closed.” Should is say paid and closed by consumer? Is that a good or bad thing? Can I just ignore it, or should I try to reopen the account?

  23. Received same letter from Wamu for myself and wife as well with same Nov 14 inactive date.

  24. MontereyJack says:

    I can’t fault any business for closing a dormant account (e.g., Ing Direct closed my account without warning–then hung up on me when I called to ask why).

    However, Chase has the worst customer service (and customer service policies) of any major finance company. I closed two Chase accounts after the incredible hassle I had when my account number was used (accidentally, I think) for a charge at a web store I never visited. Chase presumed me guilty, forced ME to write a statement saying I didn’t make the charge, and then tried to assess a LATE FEE!

    I was shocked because this happened on one of my first credit cards and the account had been open for 10+ years. Plus, my credit score is in the 800 range so they should have a little faith in me. I was outraged and swore to never have anything else to do with them. This is precisely opposite of my experience with Discover, Amex, and Citi.

    Someday I may get the Chase United and Sony cards just for the freebies, but would then be happy to cancel them (and not make Chase any money).

  25. Same here… I just got a letter from Barclays/Juniper two weeks ago that my account was closed by them due to inactivity. I hadn’t used it in over 1.5 yrs.

  26. Just got the same letter also, only used it for the free FICO updates, funny thing is my wife’s card didn’t get canceled yet. So I hurry and charged something to show some activity.

    I wrote a nasty email to JPMorgan Chase saying great customer service (not!) and thanks for the warning (not!).

    They replied that they had the right to close it for inactivity, blah, blah, blah, basically like MrsMoney says, they weren’t concerned, too bad so sad. They didn’t even offer for me to re-open it or re-apply.

    Now does anyone else out there know what card lets you track your FICO for free?

  27. I just have a question for all of you guys that already have bought a house: do you really care that much about your FICO score anymore? I mean who and what are they going to do if you close these hassle credit card accounts and your FICO score dips?

    I understand the population that is looking to still buy a house that they want to have the credit score in good shape. However, it seems that even this population can repair it (the score) fairly fast and easy before actually buying a house so is it that important to go for the last ounce of FICO points all the time?

  28. The bad thing is, all these games affect the rate you get on a home mortgage. I’d be up for closing all my old cards, but listening to the FICO guy speak, he said there is NEVER a penalty on your credit report for keeping a card open, but there can be one for canceling a card.

    The problem I have is, I would love to close old cards I don’t use just for peace of mind. I can’t though, because I’m looking to buy a house at some point.

    I’d be curious to know how getting approved for a higher limit affects your credit score too. They bumped up my wife’s credit limit the other day without her requesting it. If something like this lowered her overall credit score, I would think that would almost be illegal…

    It’s ridiculous that someone with a lot of debt who makes a monthly payment would have a worse FICO score than Warren Buffett… (His FICO score isn’t that good.)

  29. Money-Making-Machine says:

    I also got the same letter from Chase about my WaMu MasterCard. However, instead of griping about this I am looking at it from Chase’s point of view. They just bought a very distressed bank with a lot of problems and bad banking practices. They are just trying to get WaMu straightened out as they merge the two banking operations. I only opened this account for the 0% balance transfer and free FICO score. I am not a profitable customer for them, why should I be surprised that they closed the account. You know, alot is written in this blog about how to work the system to our benefit, at the expense of the banks. We take advantage of account opening bonuses on accounts we don’t intend to keep. We open credit cards to play the 0% balance transfer game, then don’t use the card again. We should not be surprised when the bank gives us back a taste of our own medicine.

    On a related topic, I recently signed up for the Payment Protector plan on my Chase Visa card. They offered a $20 check for signing up. I got the check in the mail a few weeks later and deposited it. Then I called Chase and cancelled the payment protector plan. Well low and behold yesturday I got a notice from my bank that the $20 check was returned. Chase had put a stop payment on it. Now I also have a $10 fee for returned deposit item on my account. I guess the days of easy money are coming to an end as the banks wise up.

  30. Got the same notice… On the same Providian card…

    Looks like Chase has targeted that particular card for destruction…

  31. Duh…I answered my own question; a closed credit card ceases to accrue credit history, hence it will cease to help you in that regard.

  32. I own a house, and haven’t been worried about credit score for some time. That said, I’m looking to bump up to a bigger house (if the government would ever let house prices fall like they should) and I’m now worried about my FICO score.

    The thing is, as a self-employed person, I absolutely need the highest credit rating. I stopped opening up cards for bonuses about 9 months ago figuring I didn’t want to have any recent lines of credit opened if I went to buy a house.

  33. I’ve been waiting for this subject to come up. In my opinion, this has really started happening since the economy crisis got so bad. My husband and I have way too many credit cards. Once in a while through the years we have gotten a notice that one would close because of inactivity, but now it’s like the credit card companies are freaking out. Our fico score was 780, then Advanta and HSBC said they had closed our accounts. We got a notice from American Express that they were lowering our credit limits on our two cards by $20,000 each! One we haven’t used for a few years, and the other had about an $800 balance at 0%. Our fico score went down 10 points (so far). We still have plenty of available credit, but I don’t know if I’m willing to try to make a charge on all of the cards to keep them from being closed. I spend a lot of time just keeping up with all my money making/saving schemes from the credit offers I’ve accepted in the last couple of years.

    We tend to use 3 or 4 cards, depending on the rewards or 0% on purchases for however long. Right now you can get a WaMu card with 0% until April 2010 on purchases if you make a balance transfer of at least $100. We just paid the balance transfer off the first month and are good to go while we bank the money in savings.

    I am, however, starting to try to get out of debt, even with the 0% and rewards. Things are just getting too weird out there.

    I was wondering if this credit freak out was happening to anyone else, since I knew our credit was great and couldn’t figure out what was going on. We own our house and cars, but it is my understanding that your fico score can affect many other things, including what you are charged for home and auto insurance premiums.

  34. Guess we need to declare 1 month out the year ‘credit card month’ and make a concerted effort to use all the cards at least once that month.

    I’m sure the banks are trying to get customers off their no-fee accounts and eventually into their fee accounts.

    Thanks for the post Jonathan.

  35. If you have rewards remaining you had better get them soon!

    The headlines of our local newspaper has an article on this today. Seems banks are looking to cut 2 TRILLION in consumer credit lines. Many people are finding out their cards have been canceled while making a purchase. NICE! These people are obviously using their cards regularly.

    Another example was of a man who has a 50 mile commute to his job as a postal worker. Chase canceled his card saying he violated the terms by using it for commercial use. He called and explained the situation and they said it was final – even though he paid his bill in full and on time each month.

    Would it be better (for credit score) to call the banks and cancel my old cards myself? Or wait to see if the banks do it for me?

    Employers frequently check credit scores for consideration in hiring. So in this job market it’s not just the people looking for a mortgage or car loan who need to worry about their score.

  36. The way I see it, unused cards are a potential liability for several reasons.

    As mentioned, they’re maintaining accounts that aren’t being used, which is costing them money. Good businesses don’t keep up practices that result in continual losses.

    With widespread job losses and home forclosures, having unused cards floating around provides a recently laid off worker the chance to ring up some serious debt on their way to bankruptcy. While I do not usually carry balances on my cards, I got in a tight spot last summer and carried balances of several thousand dollars. If I had suddenly been unable to pay those balances, the cc companies have compounded problems.

    There’s also the potential for credit card fraud, which the cc company protects you from. Recently, my Chase card was used for online purchases, though I hadn’t used the card in months. Chase now has to pursue the criminal that illegally charged hundreds of dollars to my account.

    Given these risks, I hardly see any rewards for the cc company that would justify maintaining the accounts. That being said, it does seem rather conspiratorial that everyones Equastrian accounts are suddenly closing. Let the good times not roll.

  37. I just setup auto bill pay for a small bill to each credit card, this way Discover gets a $10 bill from Netflix, American Express gets a $30 electric bill, etc., and all cards stay active and keep building history.

  38. Teej is on to the right ideas here I think as a trend. But for WaMu/Chase specifically, there’s also probably a cost for them to supply us with our FICO scores on a monthly basis for free as well. So it also saves them money to close accounts with no activity.

  39. FICO scores are also used by insurance companies ” Auto/Home” in tabulating your worthines and amount of premiums for coverage.

  40. Rampage – I do the exact same thing. No fuss, no muss.

  41. same thing happened to me, same card, same date

    /sigh

  42. rubin pham says:

    i have exactly the same problem with my chase credit card. i have not used it in the past year and they just sent me a letter telling me that they have cancelled it. citi bank on the other hand tell me to use my credit card by certain future date before they cancel.
    it seems like chase is trying to do some risk management at the expense of their customers.

  43. I’m kind of late to the game, but I have to second Rampage’s comment. I have a $15 phone bill to one, a monthly credit monitoring service to another and the last one is my truly active one. If I had more than three, that could get tedious to keep up though.

  44. “not good customer service”…

    If you haven’t used the card in a year… you’re not really a customer.

  45. I am astonished at all this sympathy for the credit card companies. To imply that they in any way have the right to close an account without notice is amazing! Has everyone become so brainwashed that they think we have no rights as a consumer? If we passed the credit application, made timely payments, and kept our end of the bargain with nothing but improvements to our credit reports, what gives them the right to screw with our fico scores without notice?

    If I have the account, it should be open for my use at any time I choose, regardless of how long it’s been, as long as my account and credit are in good standing. It’s the closing of accounts without notice that is something we should all be standing up against!

  46. Honestly, I am surprised they are just closing cards and not charging annual fees instead. But as pointed out, the open cards are expensive.

    In the past I dread closing cards because their retention tactics can be so annoying. So I look forward to closing some of my cards with ease. (I’ve put off closing about 3 cards with dread – if I luck out they may close them for me).

    & anyway, I’ve been a homeowner for 10 years. My credit cards, old and unused, have little effect on my FICO. I get the feeling my mortgage makes up 90% of the FICO score. (I closed my first cards and erased my first 10 years of credit history and still had a FICO over 800). So yeah, I would certainly be concerned if you are in the process of improving your credit. But if you’ve had a mortgage for a few years, and a good score, it hardly makes a difference. You know, it depends on many factors. But I think most people with good scores tend to over-react in this situation.

  47. I got an Amazon credit card during a purchase about 3 years ago to get the discount. Never used it after I paid the first balance off, they sent me a new card in the mail about a week ago. Saturday I called to cancel it instead of activating it and was told it had been cancled 2 months earlier, due to inactivity. Fine, but at least send me something in the mail about it.

    Credit card companies usually send offers every 2 weeks, Discover used to be insane sending me courtesy checks every 6-8 days trying to intice me to use them and spend their money, but they can’t drop a letter in the mail letting you know that the account has been closed? Odd.

  48. ChaMu is offering a $100 bonus for opening a new checking account. I’m opening and closing come March.

  49. ChaMu is offering a $100 bonus for opening a new checking account. I’m opening and closing come March.

  50. I am so upset about Chase taking over WaMu. I actually liked my bank.

    Chase is A) a giant, unfriendly corporate bank, and B) just a giant SNAFU. They have my boss’s mortgage, and they’ve just billed her twice for the mortgage payment for the second month in a row. They haven’t yet credited her back the second payment from last month!

  51. It’s terrible that the credit card issuers would terminate their credit card accounts without any prior warning to the customer.

    The biggest problem with the credit card companies is that they don’t have the same respect for their customers as other customer-service reliant industries.

    If a restaurant stopped serving you in the middle of dinner, you’d curse them, get up, walk out, and never return.

    But if a credit card issuer cancels your card without notice, you try to figure out a way to keep your card, because of the personal ramifications to your credit score and the loss of the line of credit.

    They have too much control over our well-being and not enough respect for us as customers, so we’re like lamb lining up for the slaughter.

    Thanks for the reminder with this one, I’ll have to develop a system to keep my credit cards active, but that could be tough for some of us that have a dozen credit cards.

  52. ever got your account reinstated? i’ve had the wamu card back since it was providian too (for the free monthly FICO score). guess I’ll ring up something with it before its too late…

  53. No, I was unable to get my WaMu card re-opened after calling in. Basically, they said it was already closed and I would have to apply for a new card. Ah well, lesson learned.

  54. I agree its poor customer service. In Singapore, they do not cancel it but will usually charge you an annual fee which you can easily call back to waive it off. The banks here will try their best to keep you as a customer.

  55. Wamu/Chase cancelled my WaMu card last month and didn’t send me any notice. I found out like alot of others when I tried to use the card. I had a low intesest rate on the card and only used the card for larger purchases. When I called to see about having my credit card reinstated the customer service lady was not helpful at all and quite rude. She laughed and said well you can just apply for one of our other cards. I have been a WaMu customer for around 20 years and have and excellent record with them. I will be pulling out all my funds in both my checking and savings account in the new year, As will both my children. My daughter had her card cancelled also same reason. It’s just to bad they now own my Mortgage…..I will refinance if I get a better deal in the future just to keep from paying them any interest that I can. I hope they lose a ton of business and more money than WaMu ever lost.

  56. if you lent someone money thousands of dollars, and the person who borrowed it isnt using anyway, wouldnt you want it back so you can use it for your own financial growth. i believe everybody has that right.

  57. I had the same experiences with Providian/WAMU, Citi, and Chase. I have had over 10 accounts closed in the last 2 months. I even called all of the numbers on the back of my credit cards (I had well over 30 cards) to find out the status of each card. Many of them had been closed just recently (in November). I was planning to close some of the accounts myself but was not happy that they closed the accounts on me without notifying me in many cases.

    Of the remaining cards that were still open (around 20), I quickly went out and used them. When I would use some of the cards a second time, the card would be declined. When I contacted the credit card regarding why a purchase was declined, I was told that the account had been closed due to inactivity. When I pointed out that I had just recently used the card, all they would say is that the account is now closed and that I would have to reapply. So using the card does not necessarily mean that it will not be closed. In fact, a Citi rep told me that they required 5% of the available credit to be charged to the card for it to remain active. On a 20K card, that means they required a balance of $1000 to be on the card. Things are really completely out of control at this point. Where it all ends up, nobody knows.

  58. Well now that Chase has purchased Wamu they have just now announced that they are taking away the free FICO score that Providian and Wamu both keep effective after they took over the accounts. But Chase was kind enough to let every one know that you could still have you FICO score available to you through their credit score program that comes along with a hefty FEE!! Well all good things must come to an end. But you can bet that I will be canceling my Wamu/Chase credit card as soon as the free FICO service is up in March. To bad–that was an excellent card perk loved by many an one of the reasons I was a customer for many years. Maybe some other company will start to offer the free FICO service soon!

  59. You may want to just contact your credit card company and ask someone just how often they require you to use your card in a 12-month period. That’s what I did — after I was assessed a $25 nonactivity charge for not having used my card for about 9 months! In my case, I was advised they require that the card be used at least 5 times in a 12-month period. This time may vary among financial institutions. I also requested that the charge be waived — which it was as a 1-time “courtesy” to me.

    In an ideal world where true common sense was the order of the day, customers would never be charged a fee for not using a credit card. How ridiculous! But it is what it is ..

    Why our so-called elected “representatives” in Washington, DC even allow this kind of unfair practice by banks against the citizenry in the first place is just beyond me.

  60. well i had 2 providian cards the became wamu than chase. they closed my accounts without telling me and i actively used them and paid my monthly payment ontime. had the cards for many years. now i still have to pay a yearly fee and 29% interest.

    anything i can do

  61. I have a lot of U.S. credit cards, but live overseas so I don’t use them. However, I would like to keep my credit cards alive, but each time I try to use them, they block my credit card for fraud because they assume that if I use a credit card abroad, then it is fraud. They also charge 3% foreign transaction fee, making it less appealing to use. It is hard for me to use the credit cards at all. Since I don’t go to the USA very often, I almost have no chance of using these cards. I would visit the USA more often, but it seems like each time I try to go into my own country, I get harased by the immigration controls, and airport security. I probably have an easier time getting into foreign countries than America. I hope that Citibank isn’t forcing its customers to use 5% of their credit line because that will make things even worse for me. It is already very inconvinient. I really don’t see how George Bush’s $700 billion bail out is helping. It seems like the banks are going under regardless, and these kinds of things such as closing accounts would have been done with or without the bail out. They should have just left the banks as they were and let them collapse, because the way it looks now is it is inevitable. Since they are closing millions of accounts, you can be that they will be closing hundreds of jobs too.

  62. They did this same thing to me. I am very appalled. Don’t need the card for anything- but no notice for an account in good standing that has been open for 10 years? Just a letter stating you have been cancelled received a full month after they had cancelled the card?

    Wish I lived in a country that actual consumer protection laws- because this should absolutely be illegal.

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