Here’s why it can be empowering to cut up your credit cards when paying off credit card debt.
Cutting up your credit card when facing overwhelming consumer debt not only provides a powerful visual symbol of your commitment to pay off your debts but also creates a small barrier to using your credit account(s) in the future.
Cutting up your credit card does not mean you are closing your credit card account. The plastic card is merely a means to access the available credit on your account. Your credit card company may very well send you a free replacement card at your next account anniversary if they notice you have not been using your account for a while. Additionally, you can order a replacement at any time, though there may be a fee.
The Power of Cutting up Your Credit Card
The symbolism of physically destroying your credit card works on several levels. Cutting up your card makes a forceful and even aggressive statement that you are making a change from how you have used your credit previously. You are making a break (slice) from your past overspending and choosing to start anew.
Additionally, cutting up your credit card is an act of recognition that you are in a position that requires change. Previously, you have valued the plastic card for its ability to get you what you want when you want it. Getting rid of it means you are willing to show self-discipline and delay the gratification of your impulses in exchange for a more stable and successful long-term financial situation.
If you cut up your credit cards in secret, you are still making a statement to yourself. However, you can make your statement more powerful by including others. Doing so turns your statement into something akin to a ritualized commitment (e.g. the oath of office, marriage vows, or a spiritual baptism) while turning your friends, family members, or counselors present into witnesses to your pledge. With the weight of these witnesses’ support, you make yourself accountable for following through with the promise to yourself.
To make yourself even more accountable, you might consider sharing your cutting commitment on your social media pages. Cutting up your credit cards for your entire social circle to witness means you are bound to be asked many times in the future how your determination to stop overspending is going. Such questions create motivation to persist.
How Cutting up Your Credit Card Creates Spending Barriers
Destroying your plastic card means you no longer have it available for making in-person purchases. While online purchases are becoming more common (think of the explosion of food delivery purchases that happened during the coronavirus pandemic), the vast majority of purchases are still made offline and in person. Although you might be a big online shopper and place one or two orders a week, each week, you are likely to stop at a grocery store, gas station, multiple coffee shops, a few restaurants, a movie theater, and a couple of department or discount stores.
Each time you stop at one of these stores, shops, or retailers, you put yourself in a tempting position to use your credit card to make a purchase if you have it in your purse or wallet. By cutting up your card, you deny yourself the possibility of using the card at many, though not all, of these consumer locations. To make certain you stick to your commitment, though, you will need to consider taking a few additional steps to eliminate your card from all forms of potential payment.
What Else You Need to Do along with Cutting Up Your Credit Card
In our digital world, you must also cut up the digital equivalents of your plastic credit card. This includes removing your card account from any online retail accounts you may have, such as Amazon, eBay, and iTunes. Additionally, you will need to remove your credit card account information from any digital wallets or mobile payment apps you have used, even once, over the years. These include services such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Samsung Pay, and Venmo.
Moreover, you should check your phone in case you ever took a photo of your card. If you use a digital security app (“password vault”), you will also need to delete your card number there.
Why all the fuss about deleting all traces of your card number? If you are to the point of cutting up your credit card, you have likely been struggling to control your consumer spending. Leaving your card number online or in your digital wallet is the equivalent of an alcoholic throwing away all his or her bottles of liquor except for a flask of gin carried in a coat pocket.
If you are going to take the dramatic step of cutting up your card, you must eliminate all opportunities to use the card.
The final option for eliminating the possibility of overspending on your card involves actually closing your credit card account. This is a drastic move that will have both immediate and likely long-term consequences on your credit rating. When you close your account, besides being unable to use it for purchases, the credit card company will change the status of the account on your credit report from “open” to “closed.” A closed account may still influence your credit rating, but it will not offer any credit-building opportunities. Closing the account also erases any good “balance-to-limit” ratio you might have had.
A good credit rating can be important, but for the purposes of this post, it may be less important than eliminating your consumer overspending.
How to Correctly Cut up Your Credit Card
Now that you have decided to cut up your credit card and have even chosen the venue (alone, with a family member or friend, or on social media), it is time to do the actual cutting. Consider the following when performing this ceremony:
Use a pair of strong scissors. Using flimsy scissors can backfire and lead to injury if the blades slip and catch your finger(s).
Take your scissors and cut across your card’s security chip (the square on the righthand side of your card when looking at the front).
Cut directly through the card account numbers (straight across) before cutting up and down to ensure there are no more than one or two full numbers visible at all.
(Bending the card back and forth is an option many have tried. While you can typically bend and snap your card into four pieces, this method has its limitations in that it likely leaves your card’s ID chip intact and your card numbers visible.)
Cutting your card this way will also ensure you are cutting crosswise on the magnetic strip found on the card’s back. Be sure this strip is completely severed and in multiple pieces since it contains much information about your card. Finally, you should consider tossing various pieces of the cut-up card into multiple trash cans in your home, neighborhood, and work. As hard as you cut, you likely won’t end up with more than 20 or 30 pieces. That’s not a very complicated puzzle if a dumpster diver comes across your plastic chaos in your trash. Best alternative? Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy your card. Even most of the cheap, small shredders can handle a single credit card you run through them.
Alternatives to Cutting up Your Credit Card
You may not be at the point of cutting up your credit card. Instead, you might just want a way to slow down your reaching for yourself when you experience impulsive situations. If such is the case, you might consider a couple of other options rather than cutting up the card completely.
One popular alternative involves fully immersing your card(s) in a small cup of water and placing that cup in your freezer until the water has turned to solid ice. You can then remove the card from the cup and place it in a plastic freezer bag for long-term storage in the bag of your freezer or, better yet, at the bottom of your freezer.
If you come across a true financial emergency and need to thaw your card, it will take work and time, both of which will lead to further reflection on the purchase and whether it is truly an emergency. There is no guarantee this method will keep you from making unnecessary consumer spending. After all, anyone with a hairdryer can get to the card in a matter of a few minutes. However, even that effort might help.
Additionally, you might consider placing your card under lock and key, literally. If you have a safe in your home, place your card in the safe and entrust the key to the most responsible family member or friend you have.
Placing it in a safe deposit box at a bank or credit union across town also serves a similar purpose, though the monthly expense of the box might defeat the ultimate goal of decreasing your expenses.
If it’s past the proverbial point of no return, and the credit cards are maxed out, you may want to consider consolidating the credit cards on a debt management plan. These plans are run by nonprofit credit counseling organizations such as Money Fit and are a safe alternative to repaying your debt in full and on improved terms.
Does cutting up your credit card hurt your credit score? Cutting up your credit card will not directly affect your credit score. Since you will no longer be using the credit card, cutting up the card means you will not be adding any activity (positive or negative) to your credit. Over time, though, you may see your credit rating decline.
Do you really need a credit card? No one needs a credit card to survive. Credit cards are tools that add convenience to making and tracking your purchases while also building a history of credit usage. With a good credit history, you can take out a mortgage at a lower interest rate (less interest paid over time) than you could with poor credit or no credit.