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Step 4: Don't Close Credit Cards or Other Revolving Accounts

If your goal is to improve your credit score, don't close any of your current accounts. Closing credit cards and other revolving accounts can never help your score, and it might actually hurt it.

Shutting down accounts reduces your total available credit, and that makes your balances loom larger. That narrowing of the gap between the credit you're using and the total credit available to you is one of the things that can hurt your score.

Closing older accounts can also hurt you, because the formula notes both the age of your oldest account and the average age of all your accounts. It's particularly important to keep your oldest account active, because shutting it could make your credit history look years younger than it actually is—and your score could drop as a result.

It may not be enough, by the way, to keep your oldest credit card in a drawer. If you don't charge something occasionally, your lender could decide the inactive account is more trouble than it's worth and close it for you. To keep it active, you might want to charge some small, recurring bill to the card—a newspaper subscription, your health club dues—and arrange to have the balance paid off automatically each month.

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