Upgrading Your Credit Card Could Help You Save Money: What to Know Before You Do

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Upgrading your credit card can be an easy way to earn rewards points and cash back without applying for a new card.

If your current card doesn’t offer spending rewards, you’re essentially missing out on free money and other perks. The right upgrade can bring you points and miles for flights and hotels, cash back on groceries, and rewards on dining and entertainment, which might not be available with your current card. Credit-building cards, for example, often start out with low credit limits and minimal rewards, since they’re designed for newcomers and students. 

An alternative to upgrading is to apply for better cards once your credit score is high enough, but that could involve a new credit check, which could temporarily lower your credit score. Plus, a new credit card increases the hassle if you use your credit card for auto-payments — something an upgrade could help you avoid.

To help you decide what’s best for you, here are a few things to consider when upgrading your existing credit card.

Benefits of Upgrading Your Credit Card

The biggest benefit of upgrading your credit card is that you can access better rewards without, in most cases, undergoing a whole new credit card application and credit check. This way, you keep growing your credit history with your current card issuer while enjoying more perks and savings. 

“In many cases you won’t even need a new card number, so you don’t need to go back and reset all of your autopays,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, which like NextAdvisor is owned by Red Ventures. “So I would say ease of use is definitely a reason to do this.” 

Upgrading a credit card can be a good option for people who are still using a secured credit card, and have enough credit history to switch to a card with more rewards. For instance, someone who opened a Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card in college could check out some of the best Capital One rewards cards after spending a few years building their credit score. They could then call the issuer to ask for an upgrade.

Upgrading Your Credit Card with the Same Issuer

Credit checks are required for new card applications any time you open a second credit card. But when you upgrade, it’s a little different.

“When you upgrade a card, you’re not canceling a card in favor of another,” says Adam Vega, a CFP® and president of Avance Private Wealth in Delray Beach, Florida. “Most issuers will honor the time you had the original card and roll it into the next one. This can be helpful for your credit score, and it may help you earn other perks with the company.”

A big advantage of upgrading your card with the same provider is that you probably won’t see a hard credit pull on your credit report. “Since you’re upgrading with the same company, they rarely require a full credit application. In most cases, as your information with the company is already on file, only a few additional questions are needed to upgrade your card,” adds Vega.

Those questions might include the issuer asking for your current rent/mortgage payment, your updated income information, along with other questions just to get an idea about your financial situation at the time of applying. 

Pro Tip

Upgrading your credit card can help you earn points and cash back, and you might not even have to update your autopay settings. Make sure to ask your card issuer for details.

If you’re wondering how to upgrade a credit card, it’s usually pretty easy: Call the 1-800 number on the back of your card and speak to a customer service rep. You may also be able to submit an application through your credit card account’s online portal. The card company will review your accounts and credit score, likely looking at factors like your credit utilization and on-time payment history. Based on that information, they will decide if you’re approved, then set your credit limit and APR.

Potential Drawbacks and Considerations

Upgrading your credit card can be beneficial, but there are also some drawbacks to consider.

Right off the bat, ask your credit card company if you will need to get a new account when you upgrade your card. If the answer is yes, it’s likely the issuer will need to pull a hard credit inquiry, which could cause your credit score to drop by 5 to 10 points (and stay that way for a few months).

Your credit utilization ratio, the second most important factor on your credit score, may be impacted if the new card comes with a lower limit. While this likely won’t happen, you can prevent this change from affecting your score. “You always do have the ability to make an extra payment midmonth and knock that balance down before the statement even comes out, or ask for a higher credit limit,” says Rossman.

Another downside worth mentioning is that credit cards with excellent rewards are not always free. You might have to pay an annual fee to open a rewards credit card. Ask your card issuer about any fees associated with a new card before you make the switch.

Some cards might also have minimum redemption requirements, such as $25 for cash back or 2,500 points, so you’ll want to find out when you can start using your updated card’s benefits. 

Pros and Cons of Upgrading Your Credit Card

Pros

  • Usually no hard credit check required

  • Can roll existing credit limit into a new, better card

  • Opportunity to earn more rewards and perks

  • Oftentimes can keep your age of credit history (no need to cancel the first credit line)

Cons

  • New card might have an annual fee and/or higher APR

  • Your credit limit might go up or down, thereby impacting your credit score

  • If there’s a hard credit check, it might ding your credit score (always ask)

Alternatives to Upgrading Your Credit Card

If you don’t feel like a credit card upgrade is right for you, or you don’t yet qualify for a better card with your issuer, there are some alternatives you might consider.

First, think about asking your credit card company for a lower interest rate. This is especially beneficial if you’re paying off debt. Getting a better credit card interest rate can help you lower your monthly payments and pay off your debt more quickly. Plus, it will put some money back into your pocket.

Similarly, you might ask your card issuer for a higher credit limit. This gives you more spending power, and assuming you’re able to pay off your balance each billing cycle, it can have a positive impact on your credit score. Find out if this will result in a hard inquiry, so you can prepare for a temporary drop in your credit score.

Downgrading Your Credit Card

Potential reasons to downgrade might include wanting a lower APR or annual fee (or ditching an annual fee altogether), and/or you no longer use the rewards or perks. 

Keep in mind that you could lose some of the rewards you previously received — so try and use them before you downgrade. “If you have a card from an issuer that really is more of a travel card and then you switch to more of a cash back card, sometimes those reward structures don’t really play nicely together,” says Rossman. “So definitely investigate, ask, maybe even consider using your rewards before you make a change. If you’re downgrading your card while you pay off debt, remember that you can always try to upgrade again once your financial situation improves.”