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If I Don’t Activate a Credit Card, Does it Affect My Credit?

Last Updated: September 26, 2023
3 min read

Key points about: never activating a credit card

  1. Activating a credit card allows a person to use it.

  2. You usually have 45-60 days to activate a new credit card before your credit card issuer sends you a message or cancels your account.

  3. Not activating may affect your credit score because your credit utilization ratio or credit mix may be impacted if your card issuer closes the account.

Consider this scenario: You apply for a credit card, get approved, and the card arrives a few days later. But you forget to activate it or have second thoughts about activating it and put it off.

What happens if you decide to hold off on activating the card until you’re sure you want to use it? Does a never-activated credit card affect your credit score, even if you don’t technically activate it or make any purchases with it? The simple answer is yes.

Simply applying for credit can impact your credit score

First, even though you need to activate the card in order to make purchases with it, the act of activating a credit card doesn’t have an effect on your credit score. By going through the process of applying for a new credit card and opening the new account, you have already been approved for a certain credit limit, even if you never activate the card.

The key action that affects your credit score is applying for that card in the first place. During the process of applying for a new credit card account, your credit history has already been pulled and checked by the credit card issuer, and that “hard inquiry” may have an effect on your credit score.

Never activating your card may have consequences

If you don’t activate your card, there are a few things to watch out for that could sneak up on you.

What if you didn’t activate your card as soon as you got it?

If you don’t activate a credit card within a certain timeframe and don’t use it, your account may be closed automatically and be reported as 'closed by credit grantor', which could have a negative impact on your credit. This may affect your credit by increasing your credit utilization ratio, shortening your credit history, or reducing your credit mix.

How long do you have to activate a credit card?

Your card issuer may contact you if you haven’t activated your card after a certain amount of time (typically 45 to 60 days depending on the issuer) to determine if you received it. If you wait longer than that, you may need to request a new card; and if you wait even longer than that, card issuers typically close accounts that aren’t used within a certain time period.

What happens if you never activate a credit card?

If you get a card with an annual fee, you risk missing this payment if you never activate your card, which may hurt your credit score. This fee is often charged on your first bill and repeats annually on the anniversary of your account opening. Missing it or making a late payment toward it can negatively affect your credit score.

Responsible use is beneficial

Once you have the new credit card, any impact on your credit score—as a result of applying for the new credit account—has already occurred. So, as far as your credit score is concerned, any impact to your credit score happens after applying for the card, not as a result of activating the card.

Did you know?

In some cases, opening a new credit account can give you a higher total credit limit, which can improve your credit utilization ratio—the percentage of your total available credit that you’re using—so long as you don’t rush to max out the new card.

In many cases, it’s how you use a credit card that really matters.

Using your credit card responsibly to make occasional small purchases and paying the bill on time and in full can help you build credit history without incurring interest charges on purchases. Closing your new credit card account might actually hurt your credit score, because it would reduce your total available credit and thus make your credit utilization ratio look higher to the credit reporting agencies.

If you’re having doubts about whether you actually want your new card, you can always cancel it. But if you’re confident that you can use the new card responsibly and pay it off on time without accumulating debt, go ahead and activate it and proceed to use it wisely.

Instead of looking at a never-activated credit card as a possible threat to your credit score, think of the potential to use the card to help build your credit. The credit card issuer has already decided that you’re creditworthy enough to receive the new card. As long as you can use your new credit limit responsibly, your new card can be a source of convenient spending, cash flow management, and can even help you build your credit over time.

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