Does a Credit Card Upgrade Hurt My Credit Score?

Whether you've asked for a switch or the card moves to a new issuer, long-term credit score damage isn't likely.

Virginia C. McGuire, Erin HurdSeptember 29, 2020
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With so many credit cards on the market today, there's a good chance you've seen an offer to upgrade your current card to a premium version. Or maybe you've thought about downgrading your card to one with no annual fee.

But one question that gives many cardholders pause: will a credit card upgrade hurt my credit score?

If the switch means a brand new account, will they lose the positive credit history they've built up on the card — the years of on-time payments — while suffering the credit-score hit that can accompany a new account?

The good news is that upgrading, downgrading or changing your credit card shouldn't have a lasting effect on your credit score. If there's a new account, it will essentially inherit the history of the old one. In some cases, there won't even be a new account. The bad news: During the transition, your score could dip temporarily.

Three reasons your credit card could change

We'll talk about three situations in which the card in your wallet could change:

  • When you ask the issuer to swap out your existing card for a different one. Perhaps you want to switch to a card with no annual fee or a higher rewards rate.

  • When the card moves from one issuer to another. This happens from time to time, especially with branded credit cards. Examples include the Costco card switching from American Express to a Citi-issued Visa in 2016, Fidelity making a similar move the same year, and Walmart moving its card from Synchrony to Capital One in 2019.

  • When the card switches payment networks. Usually this involves a card moving from Visa to Mastercard or vice versa, as was the case with multiple Capital One cards in 2020.

How new accounts affect your score

All other things being equal, an older credit card account is better for your credit score than a newer one. There are two key reasons for that:

  • About 15% of your FICO credit score is determined by the length of your credit history and the age of your accounts. The older the account, the longer the history, the higher the average age of your open accounts, and the better for your scores.

  • A new account that results from a new credit application will usually trigger a "hard" credit check, which can lower your score by several points in the short term.

Readers also ask:

If you ask your issuer to move you from one card to a different one — known as a "product change" — the issuer might run a credit check, particularly if the change involves an upgrade to a card that requires excellent credit, or if you also ask for an increase in your credit limit. That hard pull can ding your scores. However, the issuer will usually continue reporting the card to the credit bureaus under the same account. You'll keep the positive payment history, and the age of the account shouldn't be affected.

When a card switches from one issuer to another — as with the Costco, Fidelity and Walmart cards — there can be an awkward transition period between the time the old card is reported to the credit bureaus as closed and the new card starts being reported correctly. This period can last a month or two, during which your scores might drop. Eventually, the new account will be reported with the same age as the old one, and your scores should recover.

Additionally, these automatic issuer changes do not involve a credit check, so at least your score won't suffer that way.

A switch between issuers is the most fraught kind of change because it involves so many moving parts. Even if your credit score doesn't suffer long-lasting damage, you'll probably lose access to your old account history — information about past transactions, PDFs of your monthly statements and so on.

A card switching from the Visa payment network to Mastercard, or from Mastercard to Visa, is the lowest-impact change. You'll eventually get a new card in the mail, and it will have a new number on it, but the account will continue being reported the same way as always.

Nerd tip: If your credit card information is compromised, such as in a data breach, and your issuer sends you a new card with a new number, your credit score shouldn't be affected at all. The new card is linked to the same account, and it's the account that gets reported to the credit bureaus.

The bottom line

Don't worry, opting to upgrade your credit card will not hurt your credit score. Lenders love to see long-term accounts in good standing, so it’s best to avoid opening new accounts or closing old ones willy-nilly. But having your card replaced, being shifted to a different credit card by the issuer, or even getting a new account number is unlikely to lower your score. Who knows? You might even get better perks as a result of the change.

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