Editorial Policy

What to do when you find a ‘forgotten’ credit card

Erica Sandberg

March 17, 2016

Q Hi Erica,
When I was cleaning, I found a credit card that I haven’t used in over a year. I put it in my drawer and forgot about it. What should I do with it now? Thank you for your advice. — Rebecca

A Dear Rebecca,
You may not have much of a choice in the matter, as that dusty credit card could already be closed due to dormancy. Credit issuers can cancel credit cards for many reasons, and one of them is inactivity. The reason? It is not in an issuer’s best interest to have people hang on to a credit line without using it. Transactions provide them with revenue. Issuers want to extend lines of credit to those who are ready and willing to charge.

To learn if the card is active, you can try to pay for something with it or you can call the card issuer and ask. I’d opt for the latter because who wants to swipe the card at a register only to have it declined? Just call the number on the back of the card and ask the representative about the account’s status. If it’s active, you’ve got another choice to make — which is to keep the account open or close it. If the account already has been closed, the decision has been made for you.

If the card is active, think about whether you need it. An additional credit card can be helpful in emergencies. For example, if your other cards are suspended after fraudulent use,  you’ll have this one as a backup. In some situations, having a backup card could be a godsend, especially if you’re traveling and trying to pay for hotels and car rentals. Also, the extra line of untapped credit may be benefiting your credit scores. If you have a balance on loans and other credit cards, your forgotten card is working in your favor. Credit utilization is second only to payment history in calculating credit scores. With credit utilization, the less you owe compared to the amount you can borrow the better for your scores.

However, you may not want this card now. There’s nothing wrong with sensible streamlining. Yes, you may lose some points on your credit score for closing the account, but you can recoup the loss by paying down any debt you may have elsewhere and making sure to pay your bills well before the due date. In the long run, you’ll should be fine.

But it concerns me that you could have “lost” this card. Yes, everyone misplaces something important from time to time, but it is vitally important to keep track of your credit cards. Imagine what would have happened if someone got hold of this card and took it out for a spin.

If you don’t want to carry all of your credit cards in your wallet, be sure to tuck the extraneous plastic in a spot where no one else has access. A safety deposit box is great, but a locked drawer also can work. If this card is active and you decide to keep it, just take the card out of its locked-away place every once in a while and charge something (and then pay that amount back fast). This will keep the card active. You may need it one day.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.

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