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

Your card might not be active, but your account is likely open.

Women reading her mail

If you have a change of heart about a recent credit card application, you might consider simply not activating your credit card once it arrives in the mail. Though there’s a certain level of safety in not activating the card, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a credit card account, which can leave you vulnerable in certain circumstances.

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

If you don’t activate your credit card, you nor anyone else who possess the card can use that credit card to make purchases. However, a credit card is simply a way to access your credit account. In most cases, when you are approved for a credit card, your credit account is opened well before you receive your credit card — usually once you’re approved.

This means that your account remains open until you decide to close it, even if you don’t activate your credit card.

Inactivate cards and security.

Choosing to not activate your credit card and ignoring the account you’ve opened may compromise your credit security. That’s because it’s possible to access a card without physically touching it.

Think about how many issuers let you access your account and use your credit the moment you’re approved. New digital payment methods mean you could continue to access your credit account without touching your physical card.

The Apple Card is a great recent example.

Will not activating my credit card hurt my credit score?

Failing to activate your credit card will have no direct impact on your credit score. The hard pull your issuer performed on your credit history prior to approving your application is the main factor affecting your credit score, but you’ll receive that hard pull whether you choose to use the card or not.

How long do I have to activate my credit card?

Generally, the amount of time you have to activate a credit card depends on the issuer. What’s more, the definition of “activate” can also vary between issuers.

Some issuers, such as American Express, will allow you to use your card without activation. Should you fail to “activate” within a certain period of time however, they will deactivate the card so it’s useless.

Other credit cards — such as those issued by Discover and TD Bank, have no activation time limit — though they can’t be used beforehand.

Should I cancel my credit card instead?

Unfortunately, you can’t cancel your credit card application and canceling your credit card account won’t erase the hard credit pull performed on your account. But you can close your account without incurring further credit score hits without any problem.

However, one perk of keeping the account open is the increased credit limit it offers. Even if you never use the account, its very presence can help improve your credit utilization and increase your average account age, giving your credit score a boost.

Compare credit cards

If you’ve decided the card you’ve applied for isn’t for you, compare other credit cards that might offer the rates and perks that better suit your needs. Just remember not to apply too soon if you want to avoid dinging your credit score too quickly.

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
6% on select US streaming services, 3% on transit and US gas stations, 6% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 annually, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 12 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$95
Perfect for families: Get up to 6% on everyday purchases and a welcome offer worth $250. This heavy-hitter rewards card has uncontested value. Rates & fees
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
20% at Amazon.com up to $200 back in the first 6 months, 2% at US gas stations and select US department stores, 3% at US supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year, then 1% after that and on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0
This everyday cashback card is ideal for Black Friday and holiday shopping with 20% back at Amazon.com up to $200 back in the first 6 months. Rates & fees
Chase Freedom Flex℠
5% back in rotating categories up to $1,500 combined each activated quarter (then 1%), 5% on travel purchased through Chase, 3% on dining and drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
$0
Get up to 5% cashback in rotating and newly added everyday categories. The refreshed Freedom Flex card has lots of earning potential.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$95
Earn a signup bonus worth $750 with this popular travel card. Combine with other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards for even greater value.
Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card
N/A
0% intro for the first 18 months (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable)
$0
An impressive 18 months intro APR on balance transfers and purchases, as well as no annual fee make this one of the top 0% APR cards available.
Citi® Double Cash Card
Up to 2% cash back on purchases (1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay)
13.99% to 23.99% variable
$0
Earn up to 2% on every purchase with no annual fee. This is the highest flat-rate cashback card on the market.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase, 5% on Lyft, 3% on dining and drugstores and 1.5% on all other purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable)
$0
This solid 1.5% cashback card gets even better with the addition of up to 5% back in categories like travel, drug stores and dining.
American Express® Gold Card
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
See pay over time APR
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Rates & fees
The Platinum Card® from American Express
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases. Starting January 1, 2021, your 5x points on flights will be capped on up to $500,000 annually (then 1x points).
See pay over time APR
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Rates & fees
Citi® Secured Mastercard®
N/A
22.49% variable
$0
A no annual fee secured card for people who are new to credit or have limited credit history.
Citi Premier® Card
3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, flights and hotels and 1x points on everything else
15.99% to 23.99% variable
$95
Earn 60,000 bonus points after making $4,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
6x points at Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x for all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$450
Earn 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 or more within your first 3 months. Rates & fees
Petal® 2
1% cashback, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments, plus 2% - 10% back from select merchants
12.99% to 26.99% variable
$0
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score of 600 or higher. See if you prequalify with no impact to your score.
American Express Cash Magnet® Card
1.5% cash back on all purchases
0% intro for the first 15 months (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0
With 1.5% back on everything and a 15 months intro APR on purchases, this no-annual-fee rewards card makes it simple to earn more rewards. Rates & fees
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
4% at gas stations on up to $7,000 annually (then 1%), 3% at restaurants and on travel, 2% at Costco and 1% on all other purchases
15.24% variable
$0
An impressive cashback card that offers up to 4% back on everyday purchases like gas, travel and dining all for the cost of a Costco membership.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
16.99% to 23.99% variable
$550
Get a generous $300 in annual travel credits, 3x points on travel and dining, and a 50% bonus on point redemptions with Chase's premier card.
TD Cash Credit Card
3% on dining, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other eligible purchases
0% intro for the first 6 months (then 12.99%, 17.99% or 22.99% variable)
$0
3% on dining and 2% on groceries make this a valuable card for food purchases. Available in: CT, DC, DE, FL, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, SC, VA, VT
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
14.99% variable
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants and at US supermarkets and 1x miles on all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
With a welcome offer worth up to $600, up to 2x miles on select purchases, and assorted Delta perks, this is a strong choice for Delta fans. Rates & fees
Hilton Honors American Express Card
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$0
With a massive welcome offer for a no-annual-fee card and up to 7x points at Hilton, this is a solid pick for Hilton fans and occasional travelers. Rates & fees
Applied Bank® Secured Visa® Gold Preferred® Credit Card
N/A
9.99% fixed
$48
No credit check is required for this secured card. Make a deposit of at least $200 to open this card and get a low 9.99% fixed APR on purchases.
Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® with Cash Back Rewards
1% cash back on all purchases or in categories based on Credit One Bank’s discretion
17.99% to 23.99% variable
$0 to $99
Earn 1% cash back on all purchases or in categories based on Credit One Bank’s discretion.
Self Visa® Credit Card
N/A
21.74% variable
$25
Build your credit with a low minimum security deposit of $100 and no credit score required.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
N/A
17.39% variable
$35
Apply for this card with no credit check if you're new to credit or have bad credit.
OakStone Platinum Secured Mastercard®
N/A
9.99% variable
$49
Build credit and enjoy an ultra-low APR on purchases of 9.99% variable with this secured credit card.
OakStone Gold Secured Mastercard®
N/A
13.99% variable
$39
A secured credit card to help you build credit with a low APR on purchases of 13.99% variable.
Reflex Mastercard® Credit Card
N/A
25.9% to 29.99% variable
$75 to $99
Made for people with poor credit who want an unsecured credit card. It can help you build credit, but watch out for high fees and interest.
FIT Mastercard® Credit Card
N/A
29.99% variable
From $99
Build or rebuild your credit with an unsecured card that reports to all three major credit bureaus.
Assent Platinum 0% Intro Rate Mastercard® Secured Credit Card
N/A
0% intro for the first 6 months (then 12.99% variable)
$49
A rare secured card with a 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, followed by 12.99% variable.
First Progress Platinum Elite MasterCard® Secured Credit Card
N/A
19.99% variable
$29
Build your credit with all three major credit bureaus.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
5x points on Southwest between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month, then 2x points on Southwest Airlines and 1x points on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$99
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months, plus 30,000 after spending $10,000 in the first 9 months.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
5x points on Southwest between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month, then 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals and 1x points on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$149
Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of account opening, plus 30,000 after spending $10,000 in the first 9 months.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
5x points on Southwest between 12/1/2020 and 3/31/2021 on up to $2,000 spent per month, then 2x points on Southwest Airlines and 1x points on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$69
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 30,000 after spending $10,000 in the first 9 months.
IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
25x points at IHG hotels, 2x on gas, groceries and dining and 1x on all other purchases
15.99% to 22.99% variable
$89
140,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card
2x miles at restaurants and on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$0
Earn 2x miles on Delta purchases and dining with this simple, entry-level Delta card, and pay no annual fee. Rates & fees
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card
12x points on Hilton Portfolio spending, 6x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
15.74% to 24.74% variable
$95
With a big welcome offer worth up to $650, up to 12x points on spending, and free Gold status, this is an upgrade from the entry Hilton card. Rates & fees
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Bottom line

There’s nothing wrong with not activating a credit card once you’ve received it. Just remember that not activating a card doesn’t mean your credit account doesn’t exist — or that, in some cases, your credit card can’t be used — which can cause some security concerns.

If you choose not to activate your card because it wasn’t a good fit for you, compare other credit cards to find one that better suits your financial needs.

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