What happens if you don’t activate a credit card?

Lena Borrelli
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Lena Borrelli
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A new credit card is exciting, but what happens when you forget to activate it? Perhaps you have been away on extended travel, or it got misplaced among your things. Maybe you forgot to activate it, or you decided you no longer want the card. Whatever the reason, you should activate or cancel your credit card as soon as possible so it does not affect your credit

Before you toss it in the garbage or move on to the next item of mail, this is what you need to know about activating your new credit card. 


Key takeaways

  • A bank or financial institution requires you to activate your card in order to use your credit card account. 
  • The credit card activation period typically lasts between 45 and 60 days.
  • If you do not activate your credit card, it can result in unpaid fees and can negatively impact your credit score.

Why should I activate my credit card?

One of the most important things that a new cardholder wants to know is if you don’t activate a credit card is it canceled? The answer is not right away. 

Just because you do not activate the card does not mean the account ceases to exist. When you are approved for a new credit card, a new account is opened and then a card is issued. The account remains open, regardless of what you do with the card, unless you contact your card issuer and cancel the credit card

How long do you have to activate a credit card?

It all depends on your card issuer. Different credit cards have individual activation timelines, but most cards allow 45 to 60 days for activation. 

If you do not cancel your card within the activation period, the bank may contact you as a reminder to activate the card. They may cancel the card, which means you will need to request a new card if you want to continue to use the account. Your bank could also choose to cancel your account.  

When you apply for a new credit card, be sure to review the terms and conditions to ensure that you comply with the credit card’s activation timeline to avoid cancellation. You can also learn how to cancel a credit card that was never activated.

If you already have a credit card but it is going to expire soon, you may receive a replacement card as soon as six months before the expiration date. If you know that your card is expiring soon, watch the mail for your new card.  

What happens if you never activate a credit card?

It depends on the card. There is no fee associated with the card itself, but you could still be subject to account fees. 

It is easy to forget about the annual fee if you are not using the card, but that can have serious consequences. If you do not pay the annual fee, it turns into a late payment, which can negatively impact your credit score due to poor payment history.  

Is there a fee if you don’t activate your credit card?

Some credit cards have an annual fee that you will still have to pay as long as the card remains open – even if you did not activate the card. That annual fee is often assessed as a charge on your billing statement and can run several hundred dollars a year, depending on the card you have. 

You also may lose access to any introductory offers or bonus rewards that come with your card. This can include everything from cash back to travel rewards

Does an unactivated credit card hurt your credit score?

Activating your card has no impact on your credit score. When you initially apply for a credit card, there is a hard credit inquiry that can impact your credit score. If you are approved for the credit card, a line of credit is opened, and a new card is issued. You can activate the credit card without impact to your score because the credit check has already been completed.  

Your credit score can also be impacted if you fail to pay the annual fees on your credit card account. They can accumulate with late fees and end up affecting the payment history portion of your credit report.

Finally, your credit could be affected if you end up canceling your account (or the issuer cancels it for you) as your credit utilization ratio will be affected. With a new credit card, you’ll have a larger line of credit, which should help your credit score as you’ll be utilizing less of the credit available to you. But if you close your new account, you’ll have less credit available to use. Use more than 30% of what’s available to you and this can harm your score. 

Alternatives to activating your credit card

You have options if you do not want to activate your credit card.

  • Cancel it: You can always cancel your credit card. If you no longer want it, check your statement or look at the back of your card for a phone number to contact your card issuer. 
  • Change it: If you are afraid of overspending or think you selected the wrong credit card, consider a credit card product change.


When you open a new credit card account, it is easy to forget about the card in the mail. However, if you do not activate your card, you lose access to your account and all of the rewards that come along with it. You could also have your account closed and accumulate fees like annual fees and late penalties that could negatively impact your credit score.  

If you no longer want your credit card, be sure to contact the issuer and cancel it. Otherwise, simply follow the activation instructions and then enjoy the perks of being a new cardholder!

Lena Borrelli
Cardratings Contributor

Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience writing as an authority for respected financial sites, such as TIME, Forbes, Bankrate, Investopedia, and Insurance.com. She is a financial expert who previously worked for Morgan Stanley and now specializes in all forms of finance with an...Read more

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