decline a credit cardApplying for a new credit card is an exciting and somewhat nerve-racking experience. Whether you’re hoping to be approved for a balance transfer credit card so you can take advantage of a 0% intro APR offer or you want a new rewards credit card to begin racking up cash back or other benefits, you might worry about what happens if you get turned down. On the other hand, some people may choose to apply for a credit card, then decide they don’t want it after they’ve already been approved — this is something we frequently get questions and messages about. If you are approved for a credit card then get struck with a case of buyer’s remorse, do you have any options? We did some research to find out if you can decline a credit card you don’t want and what happens if you do.

Why would you want to decline a credit card in the first place?

Maybe you were lured in by hefty bonus offers and didn’t pay attention to what the long-term card features would mean for your finances, perhaps you accidentally applied for the wrong card or maybe you thought you’d be approved for a much lower APR or much higher credit limit than you actually received. Whatever the reason, sometimes people change their minds, and in an economy where returning things you’ve purchased is the norm, you might wonder whether you can decline or return a credit card you’ve been approved for if you decide you don’t want it — and what happens if you decide to do so.

Can you do anything to prevent this from happening?

It should be noted that one of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to do your research prior to applying for a credit card. Don’t jump to apply just because an offer looks good; instead, take your time and look at the card’s terms and conditions, features and benefits and other factors to figure out whether it’s a credit card that will truly benefit your lifestyle. After all, what use is a rewards credit card offering hefty cash back on groceries if you’re usually not spending much at the store on a monthly basis? Also, bear in mind that creditworthiness, such as your credit reports and scores, is factored in when determining your credit limit and APR. This means if you’re applying for a credit card designed for people with stellar credit and yours is a little less than stellar, you may be stuck with an unsatisfactory APR or a lower credit limit than you want (or need, in the case of a balance transfer credit card).

How could declining a credit card impact your credit?

First, it’s important to understand that whenever you submit an application for a credit card, a hard inquiry will be made on your credit. While a hard inquiry can result in a dip slight in your credit scores, it will usually correct itself when you’re approved for the card, as it will increase your total available credit, which means as long as you exhibit responsible financial habits (e.g., paying your bills on time) and don’t have any other major credit events soon after, your credit scores shouldn’t change too much. On the other hand, if you apply for a card then choose to close the account, your credit scores may take more of a hit because of the combination of a hard inquiry and the loss of the credit limit you were just granted — note that closing old accounts with a long credit history will have a larger impact on your credit scores, but it’s still something to be aware of. If you choose to apply for another card soon after to replace the one you canceled, just be prepared for the fact that there will be an additional hard inquiry on your credit, which could impact your credit scores and, ultimately, your application status.

You might also consider whether it might be worth it to keep the card open and either leave it alone or use it once or twice a year to keep it active. The more credit you have that you aren’t using, the lower your credit utilization ratio will be, which can help boost your overall credit status. Unless the card comes with a hefty annual fee that makes it not worth it, so long as you aren’t carrying a balance, it won’t cost you to keep the card in your wallet. And you never know, you might come across an emergency where you’ll be thankful that you have it available.

So how do you decline a credit card you don’t want?

If you change your mind as soon as you finish the online application and the screen telling you that you’ve been approved pops up, your best bet is to contact customer service immediately. It’s possible you may be able to request that they cancel the card before it’s mailed out and shows up at your house. If you change your mind after receiving your new credit card in the mail, you should still contact customer service, but expect to have to go through the card cancellation process like you would for a long-standing account. If you are wanting to decline a credit card with an annual fee or other fees associated with it, be prepared to have to settle those fees before the account can be closed. Depending on whether you used or even activated the card, you might be able to ask to have those fees waived — but it’s certainly possible that you might have to pay them anyway. The last thing you want is for a credit card to sit collecting interest on unpaid fees and wind up in collections, so be sure to ask about remaining fees when you call to cancel and also watch for mail from the credit card company in the future. It might be a good idea to request copies of your credit reports two to three months after closing the card, so you can see if it shows up (and how). If you plan to apply for a new credit card soon after you decline the other card, you may also want to keep track of your credit scores so you know where your credit stands (and whether or not you qualify).

To learn more about credit cards and maintaining your credit, read our credit card reviews and follow our credit monitoring blog.