Your life doesn’t stay the same and neither should your credit cards. Milestones such as marriage, parenthood or a new job can change how you spend money. And if we learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that sometimes those lifestyle changes are largely outside your control. Either way, the credit card you used last year might not fit your needs today.
While a travel card may have been ideal a few years ago, a cash-back card might better fit your lifestyle nowadays. Or perhaps you have a card with a high annual fee, but you find yourself no longer using all the benefits that offset that cost. Or, perhaps your bank has introduced a new credit card or changed the features of an existing card and that card would be a better fit for your lifestyle. These are just a few examples of why it may make sense to switch credit cards.
However, before you run out and apply for a new card, consider whether a product change might be a better option. Many credit card issuers will allow current customers to change their account to a different card without requiring an application or credit check.
“Credit card companies want you to be happy with the product you’re using, so they will usually be more than happy to help you switch to a card that better fits your lifestyle,” says Anthony Martin, CEO of Choice Mutual. “If you feel like your day-to-day spending isn’t getting you the most out of your credit card benefits, then it may be time for a change.”
Although there can be disadvantages to a product change, this option can be a simple way to save money on fees and transition to a card that provides better rewards for your new spending habits.
What is a product change?
A product change is simply moving your account from one credit card to another offered by the same company or bank.
For example, let’s say you have the CardNamediscontinued, and, since you’re traveling less, you’d like to downgrade to the no-annual-fee CardNamediscontinued instead (Citi is a CardRatings advertiser; See Rates and Fees for the Platinum Select card). A product change would move your existing account from the annual fee Platinum Select® card to the no-annual-fee Mileup® version instead.
This is different than submitting an application for a new Mileup® account and closing your other card, and, in many cases, is a better option. It’s generally easy to accomplish with a call to your bank’s customer service line.
Pros and cons of a credit card product change
A product change can be beneficial for a number of reasons, not the least of which is convenience. However, you should also be aware of the potential drawbacks. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of a credit card product change.
Pro: A hard credit pull isn’t needed.
When you apply for a new credit card, in most cases an issuer will request a copy of your credit report. Known as a hard credit pull, this inquiry can lower your credit score. Assuming you’re approved for the card, the slightly lower score usually recovers or even improves within a few months, but what if you don’t have a few months? What if you need a different credit card AND to apply for a car or home loan all around the same time. Conventional wisdom is to avoid applying for new credit cards right before you plan to apply for another type of loan due, in large part, to the credit pull.
However, there is no hard pull conducted for a product change. Since you already have an existing account, your card issuer has already accessed your credit report and knows your payment history. They can simply shift your existing account to the new card.
Pro: Maintains credit history.
The length of your credit history makes up about 15% of your FICO credit score, and new credit has a 10% impact. Since a product change doesn’t close your existing account or open a new one, you don’t have to worry about either of these factors being negatively impacted. This is particularly good news if the card you’re looking to change also happens to be among your oldest accounts. If you, for instance, opened a card just after college and have long since moved on to different card needs, it benefits your credit score to have that lengthy credit history even though you no longer like the benefits offered by the card. This is a classic example of a good time to think about a product change rather than a new card application and closing the old account.
Pro: Opportunity to lower fees.
Lowering fees is a major reason to consider a product change. That is especially true if you find yourself rarely using a card with a high annual fee.
For example, CardNamediscontinued is a fantastic card for frequent travelers; however, if a financial change or family shift has you staying home these days, there may be no reason to pay the hefty annual fee. In that case, downgrading to the CardNamediscontinued, with its AnnualFees annual fee, may make sense. Just remember that you wouldn’t be able to upgrade back to the Sapphire Reserve® for at least a year (we get into that in one of the cons below).
Pro: No impact on Chase 5/24 status.
Anyone who’s been in the rewards cards world for a while knows about Chase’s unpublished 5/24 policy. As a general rule, the company won’t issue a new card to anyone who has opened five or more credit card accounts, from any issuer, in a 24-month period.
A product change, however, doesn’t involve opening a new account so it shouldn’t count toward your 5/24 status. Since Chase is known for its generous welcome offers and lucrative rewards programs, maintaining your ability to be approved for their cards is an important positive associated with product changes.
Con: Card choices may be limited.
Card issuers will likely limit product changes to only those cards with similar rewards structures. For instance, you may be able to move your account between the various Marriott Bonvoy credit cards offered by Chase, but a product change to a different co-branded card, such as CardNamediscontinued, will likely not be allowed. Likewise, you can’t switch between personal and business cards even if those cards utilize the same rewards systems, such as Membership Rewards® or Chase Ultimate Rewards® points. (Information related to The World of Hyatt Credit Card has been collected independently by CardRatings and was neither reviewed nor provided by the card issuer
Con: You’ll miss out on the signup bonus or intro APR.
While there are some exceptions with targeted upgrade offers, the biggest drawback to a product change is that you generally can’t take advantage of any introductory offers.
Let’s say you currently have the CardName, but you’re intrigued by the rewards structure of the updated CardNamediscontinued card – 5% cash back on travel through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% back at drugstores, 3% back at restaurants and 1.5% cash back on your other purchases. This card also offers an extra 1.5% cash back on every purchase (up o $20,000 spent) during your first year as a cardholder.
While downgrading your existing Sapphire Preferred® to a Freedom Unlimited® shouldn’t be a problem, don’t expect to earn that bonus percentage with a product change. You aren’t considered a “new cardholder” when you complete a product change so you aren’t eligible for the new cardholder bonuses and perks. For the record, that includes any intro 0% APR period that may be offered.
Con: Product changes aren’t available immediately.
Many issuers require your account to be open a minimum period of time – typically a year – before you can change your product. One reason for the restriction may be to avoid paying out large welcome bonuses to new cardholders only to have them downgrade to a card with a lower annual fee immediately after collecting their reward.
Similarly, once you change your card, you won’t be able to change that card – either as an upgrade or downgrade – for a period of time, again, likely one year. That means if you downgrade your premium travel card following the birth of a child, for instance, when you aren’t traveling enough to use it, you won’t be able to immediately upgrade back to the premium card if the travel bug bites and you find yourself wanting to travel again sooner rather than later.
Con: Possibility of lost rewards
If you are switching products within the same family of cards – such as between the Chase Freedom cards or Chase Sapphire cards – you probably don’t have to worry about losing rewards. However, if you are moving from a travel card to a cash back card, or vice versa, there is a chance you might lose whatever points, miles or cash you’ve accumulated. Be sure to ask if and how your rewards will be affected before initiating a product change.
Can you get a retention offer?
Sometimes credit card issuers will offer cardholders retention offers in order to keep them using their cards. Generally, banks make these offers to cardholders who’ve used their card regularly throughout the prior year and who have responsibly kept up with the payments. They also seem to be more common for cards that charge annual fees, though that could just be because people paying annual fees are more likely to seek out retention offers.
If you’re looking to close or downgrade a card to avoid an annual fee, it’s worth reaching out to the issuer first to see whether they’ll offer your anything for remaining a cardholder for another year (and paying that annual fee, of course). These offers generally take the form of “We’ll give you X points for spending X dollars in the next three months” or could be “We’ll waive the annual fee if you spend X dollars in the next three months.”
It doesn’t hurt to ask. If there’s not a retention offer available, you can always go back to the downgrade your card option or just close it altogether.
When should you close a credit card?
Sometimes simply closing the credit card is the right move for you. Here are couple of instances when this might be your best option:
- It’s not your oldest card. The length of your credit history matters, so it’s a good idea to hold onto your oldest card at least until you’ve established a lengthy history on another card. Once you have that lengthy history on a different card, feel free to close the old one that isn’t working for your anymore.
- The credit limit is low. Closing a credit card reduces your available credit. Closing a card with a $3,000 limit when you have three other cards that together offer $50,000 in credit is quite different than closing a card with a $20,000 limit when it’s the only one you have. If you have plenty of credit elsewhere, it’s likely fine to close that card you no longer want.
- The annual fee is high and you can’t justify it. In some cases, you can downgrade your card to a lower or no-annual-fee option. If, however, there’s isn’t a lower-fee option and the bank isn’t willing to offer you a retention bonus, it could make sense to go ahead and close the card. Take the two points above into account if you can, but, ultimately, you’ll just need to decide what’s best for you. Likely your credit score will take a hit, but as long as your personal finances are otherwise in order, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.
How to change your credit card
If you decide to pursue a product change, you’ll need to contact your card issuer. Before you do that, though, be sure you know to which card you’d like to switch.
“Some things to consider before you make the switch are if you’ve already paid an annual fee for your current card and if the company is willing to apply that fee towards the new card,” Martin says, “[or] if you have any travel rewards to redeem and if they will disappear if you switch cards.”
If you think you might lose rewards by making a product change, consider transferring points or miles to a partnering program, if available, or redeeming any available cash back.
The most important thing is that the features of your new card address what you felt your previous card was lacking in conjunction with your lifestyle,” Martin emphasizes.
Some card issuers may allow you to request a product change via an online chat, but be prepared to call and speak to a customer service representative. Explain the change you would like to make and confirm what happens to your current rewards if approved for the switch.
Your account number and login info should stay the same after a product change, but double-check with the representative to be sure of these details. In a few weeks, you should receive a new card. Also, keep in mind that your account number and your credit card number aren’t the same. Your new card will have a new card number, so you’ll want to make sure you update any auto payments you have associated with the old card number.
Product changes can be an easy way to lower fees and switch to a card with a rewards structure that makes more sense for your current spending habits. The next time you want to update the credit cards in your wallet, consider the pros and cons of a product change before making a snap decision to apply for an entirely new account and cancel your old one.