What You Should Do When Your Credit Card is About to Expire Here's What to DoCredit cards expire every few years to guard against old cards getting stolen and make sure cardholders always have a relatively fresh, functioning card. However, if your credit card’s expiration date is coming up, you may be a bit uncertain about what to do. Not only do you have to choose between renewing your card or cancelling your credit account (especially if you have a card with an annual fee), but you also have to act on your choice in the right way. If you’re struggling with a soon-to-be expired credit card, we’ve detailed below what steps you should take to execute on whichever option you pick, as well as what you should do with your old card.

Keep the card

If you want to keep your credit card account, in most cases all you have to do is follow the instructions your credit card provider sends you. From one to three months ahead of when your card expires, you should get a notice in the mail from your credit card issuer that asks if you’d like to renew your card and gives directions for how you can respond. Alternatively, your card provider may just send you a new card automatically, without any need for you to contact it. If your expiration date is only a couple weeks away and you have not received such a notice, you should call your card provider to see why and request a renewal. Once you have your new card, you will need to activate it by calling a phone number or going to a website, as requested by your issuer, and confirming your new card’s details.

Before you activate your new card, though, you should look over the terms agreement that comes with it. Credit card providers are allowed to alter their credit card terms, so your old card’s expiration is a good time to check if your terms have changed significantly. Most notably, you’ll want to look for increases to your APR, added or increased fees, changes to your credit card rewards and reductions in your credit limit. If you see some new clause that you don’t like, you may want to reconsider renewing your card, or call your credit card provider to negotiate better terms. Either way, it’s good to know what you’re agreeing to ahead of activating your new card.

Cancel the card

Unfortunately, cancelling your credit card probably won’t be as simple as just letting your card expire. Even after your card’s expiration date, your credit card account will likely stay open (especially if you still have a balance), and since you’re not using actively using the account, it will be more vulnerable to hacking and fraud. If you haven’t used your credit card in a while and you’re not carrying a balance on it, your credit issuer may close your account due to inactivity, but this isn’t guaranteed. It’s safer to be proactive and call your credit card provider to cancel your account, and then follow up by sending a letter via certified mail to your provider again stating that you wish to terminate your account. Before you do this, though, you’ll need to settle any debt you have and bring your card’s balance to zero. For cards with an annual fee that bills on your account anniversary, which often shares the same month as your card’s expiration date, you’ll want to make sure you cancel your account before you get charged for the following year’s fee. If you’ve already been charged for it, you can try to get it refunded by speaking with your card issuer, as some companies have annual fee refund policies. For instance, American Express (a NextAdvisor advertiser) has a grace period for annual fees, which lets you claim a refund of your annual fee if you close your card within 30 days of the fee’s due date.

Even if you don’t plan on using a card that’s close to expiration, you may still want to renew it instead of cancelling in order to help your credit. Closing a credit card you’ve had for a while shortens your credit history, and can hurt your credit utilization ratio by reducing the total amount of credit you have available to you. Your credit scores are partially based on both of these things, so keeping an unused credit card open can actually be a good idea. You can just keep the card in a secure location, and put a recurring charge on it, like a Netflix account fee, so it won’t automatically close. Once a month, you pay it off and have a quick look to confirm that there aren’t any fraudulent charges on it, and the rest of the time you don’t have to think about it.

Destroying the old card

Whether you decide to renew or cancel, you’ll still need to dispose of your old expired card. The classic method for doing this is to just cut the card in two right down the middle with a big pair of scissors and throw it in the trash, but this method isn’t at all adequate in the current age of sophisticated identity theft. You can still cut up your card, but you’ll want to cut it into a minimum of five pieces, making sure the cuts go through your name, your card number, the magnetic stripe on the back and your card’s EMV chip so all four are split at least once. When you dispose of the pieces, throw them away in at least two different places, or at two different times one week apart so they aren’t in the same load of garbage. This is to ensure that criminals sifting through the trash can’t reconstruct your whole name and whole number from the pieces they find, or that they can’t take your card’s magnetic stripe or EMV chip and clone it to make a duplicate card. Alternatively, you can destroy your card using a shredder that can handle plastics, or if your card is made of metal, you can request an envelope from your card issuer and mail your card back to it.

Whatever you choose to do with your expired credit card, we’re here to make sure you can do it correctly and safely. For more answers to your card-related questions, read our credit cards blog.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.