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If you have a credit card with an annual fee, it’s a good idea to occasionally check in and make sure you’re getting enough value from the card to justify the expense. When you decide a card isn’t worth the cost, you shouldn’t rush to close the account. Here’s a look at why you may want to downgrade your credit card and what to do if you decide to make a change.
Reasons to downgrade your credit card
Credit cards are a financial tool that some people get to help manage their cash flow each month, while those with rewards cards want to earn cash back or travel rewards.
The best travel rewards credit cards can charge hefty annual fees. If you're not getting enough benefits and rewards to make up for that cost, it can be a good idea to make a change to save on the annual fee.
Credit card use forms a large part of your credit report and credit score, so you'll want to consider the consequences for your credit if you open or close a card. Closing a credit card can hurt your credit score in a couple of different ways:
Available credit: One of the biggest factors in your credit score is your credit utilization. If you close a credit card, you lose a portion of your available credit and increase use of what you have left. This lowers your credit score.
Average age of credit: Keeping credit accounts open for a long time helps your credit score. Closing accounts means that card won't be able to help improve the average age of your credit. This is a smaller part of your credit score, so closing cards usually results in a small, temporary negative impact on your score.
But you don’t have to close a card to get rid of the annual fee. Instead, you can ask to downgrade the card to a version with the same issuer with no annual charge. Before you call customer service to downgrade, it’s a good idea to get your bearings and understand your options.
» Learn more: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards
Prepare to downgrade your card
The easiest way for most people to downgrade a credit card is a call to customer service. Calling the phone number on the back of your card should get you to the right place.
Before calling, pull up your credit card company’s website to look at no-annual-fee options. In some cases, you'll be able to downgrade to a similar card only. In other cases, you may have more than one option available.
» Learn more: How to upgrade or downgrade your credit card
What to expect when you call to downgrade your card
When you call to ask for a downgrade, the customer service representative may be able to take care of it all quickly and easily — just explain that you want to save on annual fees.
You can ask to downgrade to a specific card, but that may not be an option for your account. If you already reviewed the website for cards with no annual fee, you shouldn’t be surprised by what's available.
In some cases, you may be transferred to a retention department, which is a high-level customer service department that has more flexibility in working with you. In this case, they could offer you a bonus if you keep your current card and meet minimum purchase requirements. This is called a retention bonus. These can be quite lucrative, so you might want to consider that option if it’s available.
It’s also possible that you won’t be able to downgrade to a different card. If that’s the case, you may have to close it to save on annual fees. It’s up to you to decide if the cost is worth the rewards and benefits you receive, plus the benefits for your credit.
Don’t pay for a card that you don’t use
A credit card with an annual fee can make sense if you value the benefits, but you may not want to keep the card forever. If you have an annual fee you would like to stop paying, a downgrade can be a no-regrets decision.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card