Your credit card issuer can lower your credit limit at any time, regardless of how well you manage your account. Issuers might cut credit limits to minimize risk in an uncertain economy, as many cardholders have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Or they may do it when cardholders regularly use what the issuers see as too much or too little of their available credit.
Credit card companies determine your credit limit by evaluating several factors, like your credit score, your income, the available credit you already have and how much of that existing credit you’re using. Ultimately, though, they can increase or decrease limits whenever they want.
When can a credit card issuer reduce my credit limit?
Although credit card issuers can lower your limit at any time, they are most likely to do so when:
- You use too much of your available credit: When a cardholder regularly maxes out their credit limit or carries high balances, credit card issuers may view it as a sign of financial trouble. As a result, they may cut your credit limit going forward to minimize their own risk. This is especially true if you start paying late or missing payments.
- When the card is inactive or seldom-used: The company that issued your credit card makes money only if you use the card. (That money comes from transaction fees and, if you carry a balance, interest.) If you rarely use it, the issuer may be inclined to reduce your limit and, effectively, allocate that available credit to someone else who’s more likely to generate income for the issuer. If you let your card sit for too long without using it at all, your issuer might close your credit card entirely, leaving you with a potentially damaged credit score and no card to use.
- When the economy is uncertain: Credit card issuers have been known to reduce credit limits to minimize their risk when the economy is uncertain. Most issuers cut credit limits during the Great Recession, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve. They also did so in response to the COVID-19 economy.
Can credit card companies lower your credit limit without notice?
Credit card companies are not required to notify you about lowering a credit limit unless it will lead to an over-the-limit fee, which is unlikely since many issuers no longer assess this fee. In most cases, credit card companies are required to notify you 45 days ahead of time about any changes to your account’s terms and conditions, but this is one exception.
Though credit card issuers aren’t obligated to notify you about a credit limit decrease, it’s common for them to do so. If you do receive such a notice, it might include a reason why the issuer trimmed your credit limit. You might even be able to ask to keep your current credit limit, depending on the reason for lowering it.
Can I avoid credit limit reduction?
You might be able to avoid a credit limit reduction, but it will likely depend on your issuer and your track record on managing your credit. The best attempt at avoiding one is to contact your issuer as soon as you learn that your credit limit is changing. You have nothing to lose by asking the company to consider keeping your prior credit limit.
If you’re on the brink of maxing out your credit card or you’re using a lot of your available credit, it may be more difficult to persuade your issuer to leave your credit limit alone. Cardholders whose limits were slashed due to inactivity may have better luck.
Act fast to contact your credit card issuer as soon as you get notice, if you get any. If you wait too long, you might have to undergo a credit check to get a credit limit increase, and there’s no certainty that you’ll get bumped back up to your previous amount.
Will a decreased credit limit affect my credit score?
A lower credit limit can affect your credit score if it materially changes your credit utilization ratio, the percentage of your available credit you’re using. Utilization is a key factor in your credit score. A rule of thumb is to use less than 30% of your available credit.
Even if a reduced limit pushes you over that percentage, the effect doesn’t have to be permanent. Stay on track with payments and get your debt down, and your credit can recover.
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Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @LissaLambarena.