Credit Cards and Credit Scores: It's Complicated

By Mary Hunt

February 13, 2017 5 min read

Opening a credit card account these days is ridiculously simple. And quick. But that's not so with closing an account. For sure, the bank doesn't want to lose a good customer. But it's more than that. Closing accounts can mess with your FICO score big time if you're carrying a pile of debt and if it's not done strategically.

Dear Mary: I am going to be terminating my checking, savings, investment and credit card accounts with banks that back social issues I strongly oppose. How can I do this without adversely affecting my credit rating? — Valerie

Dear Valerie: Of the types of accounts you mention, only the credit card account could negatively affect your FICO credit score if closed. Closing checking or savings or even investment accounts would not affect your credit score because none of those are credit-related.

To understand how much closing a credit card account will negatively affect your FICO score, you need to understand something called your utilization rate, which weighs heavily in determining your FICO score. This will help you devise a plan to close the accounts strategically — spreading your closures over a period of six months to a year.

Your utilization rate is your credit limit compared to how much of that available credit you are using at any given time, expressed as a percentage.

If you have a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit and a $100 balance owed, you are 10 percent utilized on that card. You can figure the utilization rate by dividing the balance owed on the account by the limit on the card and then multiplying that figure by 100. (For example, dividing $100 by $1,000 equals 0.10. And multiplying 0.10 by 100 equals 10 percent.)

You can figure your aggregate utilization rate by adding together all of your credit card balances, dividing by the total of the credit limits on all of those accounts and multiplying that number by 100. Credit scoring looks at both utilization rates.

The best utilization percentage to have is zero percent because then you have no credit card debt and you're not paying interest. But since that's not realistic for everyone, the best percentage is the lowest percentage you can achieve. In fact, according to FICO, consumers who have scores above 760 have an average utilization percentage of 7 percent.

If you intend to close more than one credit card account, do this over a period of time, say, no more than one account every six months. Hope that helps!

Dear Mary: Referring to your recent column "Five Killer Make-Your-Own Cleaning Products," can I use your granite cleaning formula on my new quartz countertop? Thank you! — Ann

Dear Ann: Yes. However, you have many other options in caring for quartz because unlike granite, quartz is nonporous, much harder and durable. Quartz never requires a sealant, whereas granite counters should be resealed annually to protect their beauty. You can use vinegar or cleaning products that contain ammonia on quartz but not on granite because with repeated use, both will strip away the sealant and damage the surface.

Dear Mary: Can an Instant Pot be used to can meat? — Annette

Dear Annette: The Instant Pot has been approved by the USDA for boiling-water canning, or water-bath canning, at 212 degrees F (for acidic fruits, tomatoes, pickles and jellied products) but not for pressure-canning low-acid vegetables, meat and poultry.

While I'm sure that's not the answer you were looking for, you just can't be too careful when it comes to food safety!

Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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