At a Glance
When you upgrade or downgrade your credit card with the same issuer, called a “product change,” you’re switching your current card (including the fees, terms, and benefits) to another card within an issuer’s “family” of cards. Your account typically needs to be open for at least one year before upgrading or downgrading, though downgrading a card you haven’t had long can cause you to forfeit perks with the original card.
Credit card companies have restrictions and allowances when it comes to upgrading or downgrading. While typically there’s not much flexibility, ask your credit card company for more information.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Differences between a credit card downgrade and an upgrade
- When should you upgrade your credit card
- When should you downgrade your credit card
- How to upgrade or downgrade a credit card
- How will upgrading or downgrading affect your credit score
- Other considerations for upgrading or downgrading a credit card
Differences between a credit card downgrade and an upgrade
A credit card downgrade is when you move down a tier in your card’s family, particularly if you’re looking for a lower annual fee or interest rate or the rewards no longer suit your lifestyle or spending.
A credit card upgrade is when you move up to a better card in your card’s family, especially if you’re looking to earn better rewards for your spending or travel.
With both upgrades and downgrades, you can switch cards without having to close your current account and open a new one. Your account typically remains the same, and in some cases, your card number may also stay the same, but you’ll get a new credit card.
When should you upgrade your credit card?
The primary reason you may want to upgrade your credit card is if another card in your current card’s family offers better rewards or incentives for specific categories that you spend regularly in.
For example, say your typical highest spending categories are groceries and gas, but your current card only offers 1% cash back for these categories. However, there’s another card in your current card’s family that offers 5% for gas and 3% for groceries, so by upgrading your card you could get increased rewards.
Or, say you have a travel rewards card that is lower tier and doesn’t offer many additional benefits, but you’ve started traveling more regularly and want to take advantage of benefits an upgraded card in the family offers like TSA PreCheck, free checked luggage, and access to an airport lounge.
Consider upgrading your card if:
- Your spending habits change or align with a card that offers better rewards for those categories.
- You are traveling more or in situations where you can take advantage of additional perks/benefits upgraded cards offer.
Note that you likely need a good or excellent credit score and other positive financial factors to be considered for a higher-tiered card, such as an excellent payment history.
When should you downgrade your credit card?
On the other hand, maybe you have a travel rewards card with a high annual fee but you rarely travel and don’t take advantage of the benefits the card offers. Or, your card’s spending categories may not be as important or practical anymore. In that case, you may consider downgrading your card to one without an annual fee, with a lower fee, or with terms that better align with your needs and current spending habits.
Consider downgrading your credit card if:
- Your card has a high annual fee that’s not worth it.
- You don’t take advantage of additional perks/benefits your card offers.
- Your spending doesn’t align with the card’s rewards categories.
How to upgrade or downgrade your credit card?
There are two ways you can upgrade or downgrade your card:
- Your card issuer may send you an upgrade opportunity with instructions on how to make the change.
- Call the customer service number on the back of your card and ask the representative about a product change.
Some issuers may allow you to do this online, but talking to a customer service representative directly is the fastest and easiest way to determine your eligibility for a new card, as well as to learn which cards are available. Or, you can ask about a specific card if you’ve already done your research.
During your product change request, you should also consider asking the issuer to lower your interest rate. There’s no guarantee they will do this, but they might depending on your credit and other factors.
Otherwise, the switch to the new card typically happens quickly (though it can take a few days to get the new physical card). Your account and card number typically remain the same, so you shouldn’t need to make any changes to auto-pay and you likely won’t see differences on your credit report.
How will upgrading or downgrading affect your credit score?
Upgrading or downgrading is different from canceling an account and applying for a new card, and it affects your credit score differently. It’s better for your score to keep your original account with your issuer and upgrade or downgrade vs. closing an account and/or applying for a new one:
1. Credit utilization
Your credit utilization ratio measures how much of your available credit you’re currently using on your credit cards. Experts recommend keeping your utilization below 30%, but the lower, the better.
When you upgrade or downgrade your card, your credit limit may change, which may also improve your credit utilization (which can improve your score). Additionally, when you close a credit account and lose that available credit, your utilization will increase (especially if you have balances on other cards). So, by keeping your account open and simply upgrading/downgrading, it’s not likely your utilization ratio will be negatively affected.
2. Credit history
Another factor in your credit score is the length of your credit history. A longer history of responsibly managing credit is more appealing to lenders, so closing an account (especially if it’s been open for a long time) can negatively impact your score. That said, an account closed in good standing (meaning you don’t have a balance and you haven’t missed any payments) may remain on your credit history for up to 10 years. Because a product change doesn’t close your old account, this can help keep a positive credit history on your report.
3. Hard inquiries
When you apply for a new line of credit, like a credit card or loan, the lender does a hard inquiry, or “pull,” on your credit report to check your score and creditworthiness. A hard inquiry can cause your score to drop a few points for up to one year, though multiple inquiries over a short period can have a greater negative impact. When you apply for a product change, your issuer may not pull your credit so you won’t have a hard inquiry on your report.
Other considerations for upgrading or downgrading a credit card
- You may not be eligible for certain incentives, such as intro bonuses, welcome offers, or 0% APR.
- Points, miles, or other rewards earned might not transfer to your new one, so confirm with your issuer before changing. Consider cashing in points or miles before upgrading or downgrading.
- Your credit utilization ratio may not be impacted. A lower credit utilization ratio is better when it comes to your credit profile and score. However, switching from one card to another (vs. opening a second credit card) may not increase your available credit, therefore not impacting your credit utilization. This can be especially not helpful if you carry a balance from month to month.
Ultimately, choose a card that suits your lifestyle. Credit card companies want to keep your business, so consider all of your options when you’re looking to upgrade or downgrade, including annual fees and rewards rates, and categories.
Upgrading your card vs. applying for a new one can help you avoid a hard inquiry on your credit report, protecting your credit score. You may also qualify for cards you wouldn’t be approved for otherwise, such as ones with larger rewards or better sign-up bonuses. Plus, keeping your card open can help retain your length of credit history on your credit reports.
Each card issuer has its policy, but the best way to find out is to call customer service on the back of your card and ask. You may also receive an offer in the mail or email, or see offers by logging into your online account.
There are several advantages to downgrading your credit card vs. just canceling it. You won’t lose the card’s credit line or account history, both of which could decrease your credit score if you close the card.
Yes, you could lose points or rewards if you downgrade your card. Check with your issuer to learn their policy, and if necessary, plan to use up your rewards before you downgrade.