What To Do During a Credit Score “Cheat Day”

(or, “Things To Do If You Don’t Care About Your Credit Score”)

If you don’t need your credit score for a loan, it’s really not that important.

In America, there is a fetishization of credit scores. We celebrate people with “perfect” 850 FICO scores. We treat folks who have filed for bankruptcy like lepers. We warn that you shouldn’t cancel a credit card, lest it damage your score! Oh no!

Opening a new credit card? Watch out! That hard inquiry will ding your score.

Refinancing a loan? You better be sure you can get a better rate or the rate check will ding you.

Trying to rent an apartment? You bet your bottom dollar the landlord is going to check if you’ll be a Lannister.

Just borrow money, pay your bills on time, and your score will go up. Up is good! Be a good debtor!

But what if you don’t care about your score? Or you want to do all of the “bad” things credit score-wise that may be financially good for you? A “credit score cheat day” if you will? (more like cheat week or month!)

Read on!

Table of Contents
  1. Who Might Not Care?
  2. What Crazy Things Can I Do???
    1. Check Refinance Rates
    2. Cancel Unused Credit Cards
    3. Apply for Credit Card Bonuses
    4. Charge It!
    5. Pay Off a Loan
    6. Check Your Credit Report

Who Might Not Care?

If you wont’ need a loan for the next few years, there’s a good chance you don’t care about your score. If you just bought a home or just bought a reliable car or refinanced a loan, there’s very little reason to worry about your score.

As for the “other stuff” that need your score, having an average score is good enough. We’ve all heard stories of employers or cell phone companies or landlords looking up your credit before giving you a job, phone, or keys… but you don’t need stellar credit for that. You just need to have a decent one.

If you have an 800 FICO credit score… you pay the same interest as someone with an 850!

So if this describes you, you may want to consider a credit score cheat day!

What Crazy Things Can I Do???

First, I wouldn’t get too crazy. Much like a junk food cheat day, you still have to pay the consequences even if they’re relatively minor.

Don’t do something wild like declare bankruptcy.

Don’t start missing payments.

You want to bunch up a few of things that are “bad” for your score but still “good” for you:

Check Refinance Rates

This might not seem like it makes sense but see if you can get a better rate on any loan you have. There are some situations where you might not want to check your rates because you don’t think it’ll be any lower or it won’t be worth it. Since it involves an inquiry, you might have backed off.

If you don’t care about your score, then do this first. Hard inquiries might reduce your score but you have nothing to lose. (and if there are any suspicious hard inquiries, you can get those inquiries removed)

If you do this, make sure you get all the inquiries within 14 days. When you shop around, you’ve given a grace period of 14 – 45 days where all the inquiries “count” as a single one. It only makes sense because you aren’t opening multiple lines, you’re simply shopping around.

You want to do this first because your score will be at its (theoretical) highest before you mess it up with the things I mention next.

Cancel Unused Credit Cards

This is probably the most “useful” thing you can do – start cleaning house! You may have a few credit cards that you’ve since retired but stuffed in a desk drawer. Now is a great time to cancel them, especially if the credit card has a high dollar welcome bonus offer, because you want to start the clock on when you’ll be considered a new customer… so you can get the card, and the bonus, again. 🙂

Some issuers have limits on how many cards you can have with them. Some simply limit the number of applications. Chase is known for their unofficial 5/24 rule, which says you cannot have more than five card applications in a 24 month period.

This is also a good way to spring clean your finances. Having the active account can leave yourself open to potential fraud, albeit a very small chance, and it’s one less thing to think about.

Apply for Credit Card Bonuses

This is the obvious one – applying for new credit cards hurts your score because the issuers will pull your credit report. This hard inquiry reduces your score by a little bit for a little while. The hard inquiry will appear on your credit report for two years but most of its impact is gone after the first year.

This is going to matter if you’re getting a loan but if you aren’t, it will have little impact on your day to day life.

But getting 100,000 points from a new credit card can mean free flights, free hotel stays, and other nice perks – those will impact your day to day life (well, a few days anyway!).

Here’s a list of the best 100,000 point/mile credit card bonuses.

Charge It!

A large purchase on a credit card increases your credit utilization and reduces your score. This is a double whammy if you make a large purchase on a brand new credit card just to get the bonus! You get the hard inquiry and the potential increase in utilization.

You also get a good bonus but that’s the carrot the issuers dangle. 🙂

Pay Off a Loan

I know, I know.

This one sounds counter intuitive but did you know that a lot of people’s credit scores actually go down after they’ve paid off a loan? A lot of people are surprised that their score can go down after you pay down a loan because isn’t the score a measure of your default risk? (it is)

So why does it go down? Because it’s probably one of your oldest loans and when you pay it off, it impacts the average age of your accounts.

So silly. 🙂

Check Your Credit Report

This post was all about all the “bad” things you can do but I want to leave you with something that is relatively responsible. It’s like eating your vegetables on a cheat day (your body will thank you tomorrow!).

Just give your credit reports a little peek to ensure they’re 100% accurate and correct. Errors pop up all the time. I once had two Social Security Numbers, which I thought was impossible but the report listed two in my personal information.

It turns out you can have multiple numbers because you might need to change your first one, in the event of identity theft or are otherwise in danger (witness protection, perhaps?). That didn’t apply to me though, it was just a simple error (two numbers were transposed).

Anyway, check your reports via AnnualCreditReport.com and get those errors fixed, even if those errors helped your score! (and keep these credit score apps on your phone so you can keep an eye on that score)

What would you do on a credit score cheat day?

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  1. Nilay Engin says

    Close a credit card???
    I don’t think so. while it may feel like one less card to manage and spring cleaning galore, it will reduce the line of credit. I would rather do a once yearly check up on all accounts to spend minimal amount and pay off immediately and keep all of them open.
    1) You never know what kind of deal you will need from one of your existing credit lines.
    2) Closing credit cards will have multiple affects on the credit score for decreasing the amount of total credit available which will increase the debt vs credit ratio, losing the mix of accounts – variety in credit matters as it shows that you are reliable form multiple different financial facets and possibly losing the length of credit you have established.

    It is never wise to close a credit card. I would refrain from this advice.

    • Jim Wang says

      If you only have a couple credit cards, then I agree. If you have many and some of them you haven’t used in years? Closing them won’t hurt nearly as much as people say.

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