3 Ways to Protect a Credit Card You Aren’t Using

Woman smiling and holding credit card
Mangostar / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

First, the good news: We as a country have reduced our credit card debt since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Revolving credit, which includes credit cards, has decreased for the past three months — by $24.3 billion in May alone — and that debt is now less than $1 trillion for the first time since September 2017, according to the Federal Reserve.

Now, the bad news: If you aren’t using your credit card, the whole out-of-sight, out-of-mind could wind up landing you in financial trouble — think lower credit scores due to inactivity and potential fraud.


To protect yourself from the dangers of an unused credit card, follow these safeguards.

3 Ways to Protect a Credit Card You Aren’t Using

Young woman shopping with her rewards credit card online using her laptop
Marian Weyo / Shutterstock.com

By being unable to eat out or shop as often, we’ve had fewer excuses to pile more debt on our credit cards. And while paying down balances is a good thing, if you aren’t constantly pulling out the plastic, you may have shifted your thoughts to other more immediate financial concerns.

Use these strategies to avoid the financial pitfalls of not using your credit card.

1. Continue Using Your Credit Cards

Woman with credit card
Milan Ilic Photographer / Shutterstock.com

If you’re still carrying a balance, you should continue making monthly payments. If you end up paying off a credit card, you have good reason to celebrate. Just do so responsibly. (Don’t put a huge expense on your card that lands you back in debt.) Then, continue using your card.

Continuing to use your card is important if you rely on it to build your credit score. Maintaining a responsible spending and payment schedule — rather than closing the account — affects three of the five factors that determine your credit score:

  1. Payment history, which counts for 35% of your score.
  2. Credit utilization, which counts for 30%.
  3. Length of credit history, which counts for 15%.

Keeping a credit line open contributes to your credit history, but it can have an even bigger impact on your credit utilization — the total available credit you’re using.

For example, let’s say you have two credit cards each with $1,000 credit limits. You pay off one but still have a $300 balance on the other. If you keep both cards open, your credit utilization rate would be 15%. But if you close the credit card you paid off, your credit utilization would shoot up to 30%. The higher the utilization, the more it negatively affects your credit score.

But even if you don’t plan to close your credit card accounts, dumping all your cards in a drawer because you don’t need them could affect your credit payment history — also a big contributor to your credit score.

Instead of spending a bundle, keep manageable monthly subscriptions on your credit cards — think Netflix or Spotify — that you can commit to paying off every month. The amount you’re paying off doesn’t matter when it comes to your credit score — what does matter is that you’re paying off the balance each month on time.

2. Monitor Your Credit Limit

Woman with credit card
Have a nice day Photo / Shutterstock.com

Everyone’s felt the effects of the pandemic, including the credit card companies. To reduce the chance they’ll be left on the hook for debt that borrowers can’t afford to pay back, many are cutting credit limits — less credit means less liability.

Unfortunately, that reduction could come at your expense — and in an unexpected and unfortunate way if you don’t monitor your credit limit regularly:

  1. If you attempt to charge an item that exceeds your new credit limit, you could get socked with over-the-limit charges.
  2. Your credit score could take a hit if the lower limit increases your credit utilization ratio.

By scanning your credit card statement every month or going online to check your limit, you can avoid getting socked with over-the-limit fees if your credit limit is lowered.

And if you do notice a credit limit decrease, here are four ways to fix it.

3. Regularly Check Your Recent Transactions

A happy young man smiles and gestures thumbs-up while doing his taxes on a laptop computer
Rostislav_Sedlacek / Shutterstock.com

Personal story: I have four credit cards, but I only use one regularly. While I’m enjoying my coffee every Monday morning, I check with my cards’ apps for recent transactions. (I swear I’m more fun than I sound.)

Recently, one of my cards showed two charges, for a gas station and fast-food restaurant. Neither would have raised suspicion from my card issuer, but because I knew that card was safely tucked away, I could immediately report the card stolen.

Consumers filed 6,704 complaints of credit card fraud totaling $10.58 million between Jan. 1 and July 9, 2020, according to a FTC report.

If I had simply assumed that my cards were safe because I wasn’t using them, I could have wound up with a nasty surprise at the end of the month — or worse, if I hadn’t bothered to open my statement and gotten socked with late fees.

Moral of the story: Even if you aren’t using them, check in with your credit card accounts regularly to prevent fraud and theft.

If you haven’t been using your card the past couple of months — or you have avoided looking at the balance — you may not be monitoring transactions as closely.

By downloading the official apps for each of your cards, you’ll have immediate access to your card information, including the customer service contact, as well as tiny reminders of the cards that may not be in your wallet but still need your attention.

And once you do have the opportunity to spend money again, you can use these lessons to avoid falling back into bad habits.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over
These 12 Reusable Products Save You Money Over and Over

Buy reusable versions of these household items, and you won’t have to spend another dime on them for years.

7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement
7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement

It often makes financial sense to not pay off your mortgage before retiring.

How to Buy a Refrigerator, Step by Step
How to Buy a Refrigerator, Step by Step

Here’s how I got the perfect appliance at the perfect price.

8 Ways to Snag Extra Savings at Walmart
8 Ways to Snag Extra Savings at Walmart

Are you aware of all these ways to boost your savings in Walmart stores and at Walmart.com?

This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked
This Type of Social Security Benefit Is Often Overlooked

The Social Security Administration is not helping certain people get money to which they are entitled, a report says.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?
Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?

Researchers say too many doctors are overlooking this potential source of hypertension.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss
21 Items to Cut From Your Budget That You Won’t Even Miss

Start off the new year by implementing these small-but-smart savings strategies. They’ll soon add up.

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked
11 Huge Retirement Costs That Are Often Overlooked

Does your retirement budget account for all of these costs?

7 Tricks to Cleaning Your Bathroom Faster
7 Tricks to Cleaning Your Bathroom Faster

These tips can get your bathroom sparkling with little time and no elbow grease.

20 Amazon Purchases We Loved in 2020
20 Amazon Purchases We Loved in 2020

These practical products made everyday life a little easier last year — and will do so in the new year, too.

7 Bank Accounts With Extra Perks for Seniors
7 Bank Accounts With Extra Perks for Seniors

These accounts offer exclusive discounts and other perks — including interest — to older customers.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.