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If you're in credit card debt and trying to cut back on your spending, closing your credit card and cutting it up might be the best choice you can make. But did you know that closing a credit card has an effect on your credit score? Fortunately, there are steps you can take when closing a credit card that can help protect your credit score.

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Collect All the Rewards You're Owed

If you have a credit card that pays you points, airline miles, or other rewards, collect them before you close the card. Sure, they technically are yours even after you've closed the account, but you might have a tough time collecting. If you need to spend more to reach the next level of points, get out a calculator. Figure out whether you'll be paying more in interest than the points are worth before you decide to stick it out.

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Cancel Automatic Bill Payments

Do you have any automatic bill payments set up with the credit card you're about to cancel? Make sure you move those payments to another card or system of payment before you cancel. If you don't, you could face two problems: 1) you could end up with a charge on your card when you think you have a zero balance; and 2) you might end up missing a payment and getting dinged with late fees or interruption of services as a result.

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Cancel Newer Cards First

Did you know that 15 percent of your credit rating is based on the length of your credit history? If you're trying to decide which credit cards to cancel, consider getting rid of the newer cards first — assuming, of course, that the interest rates are similar. By holding on to older cards, you give your credit score a little boost.

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Close Just One Card at a Time

Maybe you want a clean slate where your spending habits are concerned, and you plan to cancel several credit cards. Hold on! Just close one at a time. If you close several all at once, you're sending a message that you aren't responsible where credit is concerned. That'll show up as a red flag on your credit record and lower your credit score.

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Dispute Any Errors on Your Credit Report

Look over your credit report after you close your card to make sure the closure been reported correctly. You want your credit report to show that the card was canceled at your request. If instead, it says the creditor closed the account, you're going to take a ding on your credit score. Dispute the error right away, either by filing a complaint with the credit reporting company, contacting the creditor yourself, or sending a letter of dispute. Get those errors corrected as soon as possible.

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Go Over All the Fine Print

Each credit card has different closing procedures. Some may even have penalties attached for closing your credit card — that's especially likely if it's a newer card. Read over your cardholder's agreement in detail to find out what your creditor expects. If you can't find your hard copy, you should be able to find the agreement online.

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Call the Right Number

Most credit cards have a separate phone number if you're calling to cancel your card and close your account. You can probably guess that when you call, you'll face a fervent effort to get you to keep the card. Just keep saying, "Thank you, but I'd like to close my account." Eventually, they'll start the closure process. While you have the representative on the line, ask for the date the closure becomes effective and when you'll receive your final bill. Also, clarify whether there are any final financing charges to pay off.

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Let Any Authorized Users Know You're Canceling the Card

If your spouse or your kids are on your credit card account, they probably have their own cards with different numbers. If you're the primary user and you're closing the account, though, they're going to lose their ability to use those cards. Give them a heads up, so they're not caught by surprise. They need a little time to take all the steps you're already taking. So that you know: it's possible canceling the card may affect your kids' credit rating.

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Don't Get Those Scissors Out Yet

You may want to enjoy the freeing experience of cutting your credit card in half and throwing the pieces away. But hang on a minute — or a few weeks. Make sure your account is officially closed, and take a look at your final statement before you cut the card. Once you've confirmed that there are no errors, you can go ahead and get out the scissors.

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