Here’s why you should never close your credit cards before the one-year mark

Mar 11, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when they start their points-and-miles journey is to rapidly open tons of travel rewards credit cards without any plan for what they’re going to do with them. Some cards might entice you with a large welcome bonus and others will be long-term keepers, but it’s possible that after 12 months of using the card and experiencing its benefits, you might change your mind about it before the annual fee comes due. But is it OK to cancel a credit card before a first account anniversary?

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This is one of the most common questions we receive, especially right now as people are looking to minimize their out of pocket costs as the coronavirus-induced recession drags on. The answer is worth repeating loud and clear: Never, under any circumstances, should you close a credit card less than one year after opening it. There are a whole host of reasons why this is a bad idea, but let’s start with some of the consequences Alex might expect from Amex if he were to do this.

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Buried in the terms and conditions of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (and nearly every Amex card out there) is the following important line (emphasis mine):

“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 the welcome offer to, we may freeze the welcome offer credited to, or we may take away the welcome offer from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.”

There’s plenty of legalese in the terms and conditions of a credit card application, but if you’re wondering whether Amex is serious about this bit, I can tell you that they are. Over the last few years we’ve seen countless crackdowns and points clawbacks for people trying to skirt the rules in various ways, including self-referring to Amex cards and abusing limited time bonus categories to name a few.

Now some people might be thinking they’re safe from this because they’ve already spent their welcome bonus, but in the past we’ve seen Amex take people’s Membership Rewards balances into the negative when clawing back bonuses that had already been spent, and the terms are clear that Alex might face other disciplinary action, including the closure of their other Amex accounts. Simply put, this is not worth the risk.

It’s also worth highlighting the fact that there’s no reason to close a card early, as opposed to waiting until the annual fee posts. Most issuers give you a grace period of ~30 days or so after the fee posts, during which you can get the fee refunded if you decide to cancel the card. Even if someone is 100% sure they’re going to close their Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, they should wait until a week or so after the annual fee posts to do it.

When I’m analyzing my Amex credit cards each year and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to close, there’s another factor I consider. Amex now includes a “welcome bonus eligibility” checker that may pop up during your application and alert you that you’re ineligible to receive a bonus, even if on paper you’ve done everything right (you’ve never had that specific card before, etc.). You’ll find this alluded to in the card’s terms and conditions right above the line we just looked at (again, emphasis mine):

“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.

Amex and other issuers have clearly been taking moves to discourage people who are opening credit cards just for the bonuses and not growing into valuable long-term customers. While we don’t know exactly what this Amex’s bonus eligibility algorithm looks for, one common report we’ve heard is that people who close cards at the one year mark (i.e. right after the annual fee posts) find themselves ineligible to apply for more Amex cards in the future.

This means that when I apply for an Amex card, I plan on keeping it for at least two years, even if I’m primarily interested in the welcome bonus. This makes me a bit more selective, as I only pick cards that are valuable enough to justify two years worth of annual fees. Potential cardmembers should look at the benefits of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex card (such as the annual Delta companion ticket) because often a card’s perks can help offset the annual fee.

Related: Choosing the best American Express card for you

All of this is to say nothing of the potential impact to your credit score from closing cards earlier than necessary. While a few months aren’t likely to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, 15% of your credit score is based on your length of credit history, or age of accounts. The longer you keep cards open, the more they’ll boost your credit score. This means that you should always wait until the last possible moment to close a credit card, and make sure you’ve exhausted all other options first.

Bottom line

While there’s nothing wrong with opening a credit card primarily for the short-term benefit of the welcome bonus, you should never, under any circumstances, close that card before your first account anniversary. Even then, understand that if you make a habit out of closing cards after exactly 12 months, you might find yourself ineligible for future bonuses or getting your applications denied.

Featured photo by Olleg/Shutterstock

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