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Can I Change My Credit Card to a Totally Different Product?

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TPG reader Finsen sent me a message on Facebook to ask about changing his credit card to a new product:

“I have a United Explorer card that I don’t use frequently. I no longer want to pay the annual fee on the account, but I’d like to preserve its credit history. Can I do a product change from the Explorer card to a Freedom card or something similar?”

Every so often it’s a good idea to take stock of your credit card portfolio. I weigh the value of each card and its benefits against the annual fee to decide which ones I can justify keeping, and which ones are no longer needed. If a card isn’t worth having around, I’ll usually cancel it outright. However, if the account has a long history or if I might sacrifice points by closing it, then I look for other options.

You can generally downgrade (or in some cases upgrade) one credit card to another in the same rewards program. For example, if you had the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card, you could downgrade to the Amex EveryDay Card while preserving your account history and keeping your Membership Rewards points active. Unfortunately, you typically can’t crossgrade from a card in one loyalty program to another card in a different program.

The United MileagePlus Explorer Card naturally earns United miles, while the Chase Freedom card earns Ultimate Rewards points. If Finsen wanted to make that change, he’d have to put in a separate application, which wouldn’t help keep his existing account open. However, he could downgrade the Explorer card to the no-fee MileagePlus card — it only earns one mile for every two dollars spent and has none of the other benefits, but it would maintain his credit history.

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To change from the MileagePlus Explorer card to the Chase Freedom card, you’d have to put in a separate application.

Whether you should downgrade your card or cancel it entirely depends on how vital that account is to your overall credit score. Keep in mind that your credit history is measured by the average age of all your accounts; if you have a half dozen other cards that have been open for 5-10 years, then the impact of closing one of them will be minimal. On the other hand, if that’s your oldest account out of only a handful, then I’d lean toward keeping it open.

Check out these posts for more info on closing credit card accounts and minimizing annual fees:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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