When you finally pay off a credit card it feels like an easy next step to celebrate your zero balance by closing your account and forgetting about it once and for all. But before you do so, it’s important to consider how removing a closed account from your report can impact your credit score. Hint: sometimes closing your account can actually do more harm than good depending on your financial situation.
In this post, we’re using a real life example to discuss: how to get rid of closed accounts on your credit report, how closed accounts affect your credit score, and how you can build better credit behavior with your active credit accounts.
Recently I received a great question from a Minter about correcting an error on a credit report. Her scenario had so much meat on the bone that it warranted a blog post.
Normally when people complain about credit report errors they’re focusing on derogatory information like late payments or defaulted loans, for example.
However, this question has nothing to do with negative information. Here’s what this Minter said:
“A couple years ago I paid off one of my credit cards and canceled that card. I assumed this would eventually show up on my credit report as “Closed” the way my other cards had. However, when recently investigating my credit report, I saw that it’s still showing up as “Active” on all three of my credit reports…and I have no idea what to do!
I tried to contact the issuing company (Citibank) and they couldn’t find a record of my card because it’s been so long and I don’t have the account number anymore.
How do I proceed? Do I have to take it up with each credit report agency separately? Is there a standard process for disputing this? I definitely want it showing up as “Closed” because my current credit score is being negatively affected because I have too much available credit.”
The Credit Dispute Process
If the account is, in fact, closed then it should show up as being closed on her credit reports.
And, because it hasn’t already been updated to show as being closed she’s going to have to go through the credit report dispute process to have it updated across all of the credit reporting agencies.
If the credit card issuer still had a record of the account readily available in their systems she would NOT have to go to all three of credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) directly because she can file her dispute directly with her credit card issuer, which then has to correct ALL of the credit reports.
However, it appears that the issuer has no record of the account any longer. This means she’ll have to go to each of the credit bureaus (assuming it’s showing up incorrectly at all three) and file disputes directly with them. So how does our Minter remove the closed account on her credit report? There are actually a few ways she can go about this: online, by phone, or by mail.
Removing a Closed Credit Account Online
She can start this process online (for free) using the credit bureau’s dispute forms, which you can find at:
- To dispute Experian, use the Experian dispute form
- To dispute Equifax, use the Equifax dispute form
- To dispute TransUnion, use the TransUnion dispute form
Once she fills out a dispute form for each of the three major credit bureaus, they’ll each contact the agency related to the reported misinformation. In this case, the credit bureaus would ask Citibank to verify that the consumer’s credit card account had actually been closed. After the information has been verified or disproved, she’ll receive the results of her dispute (approximately 30 days after filing her claim). Results can be sent by mail or email, depending on which credit bureau is handling the dispute.
Closing a credit account online is generally the easiest method since most of our users manage their finances digitally. But, if you’d consider yourself more analog, you can also get rid of closed accounts on your credit card by phone or by mail.
Removing a Closed Credit Account by Phone
If you’d prefer to submit your dispute by phone, simply use the numbers below to get in touch with these credit reporting agencies:
- Equifax: 1-866-349-5191
- TransUnion: 1-800-916-8800
Removing a Closed Credit Account by Mail
To dispute by mail, send details of your claim and copies of any supporting documents to:
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
The Plot Thickens
Now that you know 3 ways to remove closed accounts from your credit report, let’s go back to our original example. Here’s a little twist to her scenario…
If the creditor cannot find a record of the account when the credit bureaus ask them to investigate it (via her dispute) then the credit bureaus will have to remove it from her credit reports.
The credit bureaus are not allowed to maintain information that is not verifiable.
Now, to the issue of her credit scores being punished because of having “too much available credit.”
The two credit scores that matter (FICO, VantageScore) actually reward you for having a large amount of unused credit card credit limits because it helps you maintain a lower debt-to-credit-limit ratio, which I’ve demystified in this article on credit card utilization.
In fact, if you look at the factors that influence the FICO and VantageScore credit scores, “Too much available credit” isn’t on the list.
So, I’m not sure what score type/brand you’re looking at but I wouldn’t get overly concerned about having too much available credit.
It’s not the potential for getting into debt that matters…it’s whether or not you’re actually in debt and how you manage the debt that matters.
The Real Concern
What you should be concerned about is your scores going down after the account is A) updated to show closed or B) removed from your credit reports.
If the account had a decent sized credit limit AND you’re carrying balances on other credit cards then your scores could go down because your debt-to-credit-limit ratio will go up when it shows as being closed or is removed.
And, if the account is removed from your credit reports AND it was an old account you’ll lose the value of the age of the card in your credit scores.
The Bottom Line
You’re right to want to have a 100% accurate credit report, and you deserve one. But, closing credit cards is one of the most impactful actions you can take relative to your credit score. While it might feel like a great accomplishment to pay off your entire balance and forget about your account completely, closing your credit card account can sometimes cause more harm than good.
Closing an account could impact…
If you decide to close your existing credit account, keep in mind that this could impact the following factors that are considered when credit bureaus calculate your credit score.
- Credit utilization ratio: How much credit you’re using out of your available credit limit(s).
- Credit age/history: How long you’ve had credit accounts open. This could include a loan, credit card, and utility bills.
- Account mix: What type of credit accounts you have active. This metric can demonstrate to creditors how you handle different types of credit such as a student loan, mortgage, or credit card account.
So, if your credit score is already good…I’d think about letting sleeping dogs lie.
What Happens When You Remove a Closed Account From Your Credit Report?
In general, if your request is approved your credit score will reflect the change in about 30 days. However, there are some scenarios where deleted credit report items reappear after a dispute has been filed. This typically happens if the information claimed was not verified by the credit agency in a timely manner or if the information is incorrect altogether.
If this situation happens to you, simply contact the credit reporting agencies as you did before to follow up on the status of your claim.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Now, let’s say your credit score isn’t perfect (whether or not you choose to close a credit card account on your credit report). There are plenty of things you can do to improve your credit score, even if you have inaccurate information recorded on your profile or a short credit history lifetime.
Your credit score is based on a variety of factors and can take a lot of time to build or repair, but you have the resources to change it with time and a healthy dose of dedication.
Here are a few ways you can work toward a better credit score in your future:
- Change your credit limit by paying off some of your balance or increasing your credit limit.
- Set up autopay to ensure you’re making payments on time each month.
- Keep old (good) accounts open to extend the lifetime of your credit age.
Everyone’s financial story is different, so depending on your unique situation you may find that removing a closed account from your credit score isn’t worth it because of how it will impact your account mix. Or maybe, you find that closing a credit account with negative history actually improves your credit.
The point is, there’s not really a surefire way to predict how a closed account will affect your credit score until you take a close look at your personal finances.