When Can I Downgrade My Credit Card Account?

Aug 14, 2016

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TPG reader Paul emailed me to ask about the timeline for downgrading a credit card:

“My wife and I both have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but we were thinking of downgrading her card to the Chase Freedom Unlimited for the higher base earning rate. Her account is only a few months old; can she downgrade immediately, or does she have to wait?”

Credit card sign-up bonuses and benefits are huge assets to award travelers, and learning how to manage each account individually can help you maximize them together. Downgrading a credit card (rather than canceling it outright) is a great way to protect the rewards you’ve earned and keep that account active on your credit report to improve your FICO score. Understanding how downgrades work and when your account is eligible can help you decide how to proceed if a card is no longer needed.

Paul and his wife both have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and while that’s one of my favorite travel rewards cards overall, there’s not much advantage in having two in the same household. If one of them downgrades to the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card, they can earn 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on all purchases and still get Sapphire Preferred benefits like access to transfer partners and primary car rental insurance. I think this would be a good move, but it might have to wait.

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 restricts card issuers from changing certain terms (like interest rates and annual fees) within one year of when you open an account. There are some exceptions — like at the end of a promotional 0% APR offer — but in most cases, you can’t alter the terms of your account even if you want to. As a result, you typically can’t downgrade or upgrade a credit card in the first 12 months. That means Paul and his wife will have to wait if they want to change her card to another product.

One easy solution would be to downgrade Paul’s card instead, assuming his account is more than one year old. This would serve the same purpose, since you can share Ultimate Rewards points easily with other members of your household. If your finances are intertwined, then it doesn’t matter much whose name is on each account. So long as you have the two cards between you, in this case you’ll both have access to the benefits.

You can share Ultimate Rewards points for access to transfer partners like British Airways.

Another solution would be to just apply for the Freedom Unlimited Card separately. On one hand, you’d add a new inquiry to your credit report and lower the average age of your accounts. On the other hand, you’d be eligible for the sign-up bonus, which is currently $150 (or 15,000 points) after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

I also suggest taking a look at Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) as another downgrade option. The Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited are a great combination for beginners, but the regular Freedom card might have greater earning potential depending on your spending habits.

For more on product changes and earning rewards as a team, check out these posts:

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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