How to Dispose of a Credit Card — No Burying Required

Plastic? Use a good pair of scissors. Metal? Send it back. But destroying a card doesn't close the account.
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Written by Gregory Karp
Senior Writer
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Edited by Kenley Young
Assigning Editor
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Disposing of unwanted items in our lives often means simply throwing them into the garbage or recycling bin — or, if they’re still useful, giving them away. It’s different with old credit cards and other payment cards, which should be destroyed so nobody can use them fraudulently.

But how to destroy a payment card properly is not obvious, especially with new metal credit cards. Here’s how to get rid of an old card — no burning or burying required.

First, contact the issuer

If closing the account is your goal, you’ll have to call the number on the back of your card and ask to do so — although closing an account may not always be a good idea.

If your card is a rewards card, remember to first redeem points or cash back. Change any automatic payments to a different card, and be sure to pay the final card bill. Skip this step if you’re simply replacing an expired card or one that has been compromised.

Closing a credit card account can lower your credit rating. That’s because credit scores consider your “credit utilization ratio,” or how much of your available credit you’re using. A lower ratio is better. And when you close an account, you have less available credit. Scores also consider the length of time you’ve had the card open. Closing an old card decreases the average age of your accounts, which is also considered a negative. But if an unwanted credit card charges an annual fee or you have trouble controlling spending with a credit card, it could be worth closing the account anyway.

Stop fraud in its tracks
With a NerdWallet account, you can see all of your credit card activity in one place and easily access your credit report to spot any red flags quickly.

Cut up plastic cards

Sturdy scissors and smart trimming will do the job here.

“We recommend that consumers cut through the EMV chip, then further cut the card a few times along the short side, and dispose of the sections in more than one trash bag,” says Sarah Grano, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association.

Or feed plastic cards into a paper shredder designed to handle them.

Send back metal cards

Destroying a metal card by yourself is harder and potentially dangerous. Contact your issuer. Typically, you can mail it back for disposal.

For example, when American Express sends a replacement card, it also sends an addressed return envelope to mail back an old metal card for destruction, says Heather Norton, spokeswoman for American Express. Or you can call the number on the back of the card, and American Express will mail you a prepaid envelope, she says.

Check back on your account

Don’t obsess about identity theft of an old credit card. You generally won’t be responsible for fraudulent charges anyway, although you could endure some hassle. Take extra care with debit cards and other plastic where fraud means you might actually be missing money, even if temporarily. It's a good idea to check your account statement — even your last statement on a closed account — to make sure there’s been no fraud.

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