When can you downgrade your credit card account?

Apr 2, 2020

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If the annual fee just came due for one of your travel rewards cards, you may find it difficult to justify the expense. This is especially true if you currently aren’t able to maximize the card’s benefits, earning rates and redemption opportunities. But there may be an option besides paying the annual fee, canceling your card or calling to see if you can snag a reconsideration offer. That option is to downgrade your card.

As a result of policies included in the Credit CARD Act of 2009, you’ll generally need to wait until you’ve had your card for a year before you can downgrade it, but some issuers have different policies. There are also some other aspects to consider, so today I’ll cover when you can downgrade your credit card account for most major card issuers.

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What does it mean to downgrade a card?

Downgrading your card is switching to another credit card with a lower fee and/or fewer benefits. Since you aren’t opening a new account, there shouldn’t be a new inquiry on your credit report and your online login information should stay the same. You may receive a new credit card number and a new physical card in the mail, but your account history, credit limit and other factors that affect your credit score shouldn’t change.

You can save on annual fees by downgrading your premium cards, but note that some issuers base your eligibility for welcome bonuses on which credit cards you’ve had open, not just which cards you’ve earned a bonus on. So downgrading a card might prevent you from earning a valuable welcome bonus in the future.

Most issuers only allow you to upgrade or downgrade within a single family of cards. But not all cardholders will be offered the same downgrade options and some of your cards may not have any downgrade options. Plus, although issuers may offer bonus points when you upgrade to a new credit card product, it would be unusual for an issuer to offer bonus points for you to downgrade.

Related reading: Is now the time to downgrade your premium credit cards?

When can you downgrade an American Express card?

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
If you aren’t traveling now, it may be difficult to justify the annual fee on some of Amex’s premium cards. (Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

Amex doesn’t officially require you to hold a card for a year before downgrading it — but you should wait at least one full year. This is because Amex has language in the terms and conditions of its card applications that explicitly call out cardholders who downgrade their account within the first year. Here’s the language in the current American Express® Gold Card welcome offer:

If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome offer (s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit Membership Rewards® points to, we may freeze Membership Rewards® points credited to, or we may take away Membership Rewards® points from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.

Amex doesn’t allow you to change products between personal and business cards and you have to stay within a single card family (such as Delta, Marriott or Membership Rewards). To determine your options and ask for a downgrade, call the number on the back of your card.

Because of Amex’s “once per lifetime” bonus rule, I generally wouldn’t recommend downgrading to any card that offers a welcome bonus. By downgrading you’ll lose the opportunity to earn a welcome bonus on that card in the future. But if you’re thinking of canceling a card, it’s worth checking your downgrade options first.

Related reading: Choosing the best American Express credit card for you

When can you downgrade a Chase card?

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
Some cardholders may not see the value in paying the annual fee on their premium travel rewards card now. (Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

Chase may allow you to downgrade your card to another card within the same family if the account you want to downgrade has been open for at least one year. To determine your options and ask for a downgrade, call the number on the back of your card.

Especially because of Chase’s unofficial 5/24 rule, many cardholders prefer to downgrade their Chase cards instead of canceling them. But there are other reasons to downgrade a Chase card as well. For example, you might want to downgrade the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Freedom Unlimited after you’ve held it for 48 months so that you can then earn a sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Or you might want to downgrade the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card to the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card to avoid paying the annual fee.

The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase credit cards

When can you downgrade a Citi card?

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
Ideally, you’d be able to snag a downgrade to one of Citi’s no-annual-fee cards like the Citi® Double Cash Card. (Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

Citi generally requires that you wait at least 12 months from when the account was opened before you can downgrade your card. But, unlike most other issuers, Citi may allow you to downgrade to cards outside the original card’s family.

Call the number on the back of your card and ask for your options. However, don’t be surprised if there aren’t any options offered; I’ve head from multiple Citi Prestige® Card cardholders recently that no downgrade options were available when they called.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: The best Citi credit cards

When can you downgrade a Capital One card?

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
You may be able to downgrade your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card when your annual fee comes due. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)    

Capital One doesn’t seem to have a hard rule of how long your account has to be open before you can downgrade a card, but we’d generally recommend waiting until you’ve held the card for at least a year. Call the number on the back of the card if you’re interested in downgrading.

Since many of the no-annual-fee Capital One cards offer modest sign-up bonuses that “may not be available for existing or previous account holders,” downgrading to one of these cards may mean you’re ineligible for a sign-up bonus on that card if you apply at a later time.

Related reading: The best Capital One credit cards

When can you downgrade cards with other issuers?

Other issuers may allow you to downgrade your card, although many of the smaller issuers don’t allow product changes. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the end of your first year and then call the number on the back of your card to inquire about downgrade options when your annual fee comes due.

Related reading: What is a credit card product change and when does it make sense?

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Featured image by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.

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