Should I Get a Credit Card Before or After I Move?


If you’re in the process of moving, or know you will be before too long, you probably have a long checklist of things to do before the movers load up all the boxes. If you have “get a new credit card” on that list, you may want to think twice before you file an application.

According to an email from Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, “moving is hectic enough without bringing credit into the picture.”

Timing is Everything

“People who are relocating and considering a credit move should think about timing,” McClary said. “It is far better to apply for new credit well before the move or a while afterward, in order to avoid any problems closing on a mortgage or being approved for an apartment rental.”

But where is that sweet spot?

“While there is no set rule, an ideal buffer may be about six months or more on either side of the relocation,” McClary said. “The bottom line is that too many credit inquiries … could have a negative impact on a person’s credit rating.”

How New Credit Could Affect Your Move

When you apply for a new line of credit, a hard inquiry is generally placed on your profile, which will ding your score. (Your history of applying for credit accounts for 10% of your credit scores.)

“While it may not amount to much, a small drop in a credit score can be the difference for being approved or rejected for some who already are on the margin,” McClary said. “Others may still be approved, but may miss out on the best available terms when qualifying for a mortgage loan.”

Remember, many landlords check a potential tenant’s credit reports and review their credit scores before agreeing to rent out an apartment, so dings to your credit due to a new inquiry could hurt your odds of getting that place, too, particularly if your credit is on the bubble.

You can see how your credit inquiries and spending habits are affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on If you discover your credit needs a bit of work, now may not be the time to apply for that credit card. You may also want to consider paying down your debts and disputing any errors you find on your report to help your score rebound.

Don’t Forget…

No matter when you apply, it’s important you don’t let payments fall through the cracks.

“It sounds like a no-brainer, but with all of the confusion and chaos of relocating, even the most alert consumers can be at risk of missing a payment or two,” McClary said. “This can not only cause a problem when the time comes to apply for new credit after the move, but it can have a negative impact on new accounts that were opened beforehand.”

Your payment history is the biggest influencer on your credit, making up 35% of your scores. To help prevent negative damage, McClary advises consumers “set automated reminders and switch to email and online account management if you haven’t done so already.” He said that “even if you prefer paper statements, having online account access is a good backup plan when in transition.”

Sending Your Change of Address Cards

You probably have a list of people to notify that you’ve moved. And, although they may not exactly qualify as your friends, it’s important your creditors are on that list. Not only does letting them know you’ve moved help them keep track of where to send any snail mail, but it is a security measure.

“If your creditor is relying on an outdated address, your normal card activity in your new neighborhood may trigger a fraud alert that could cause them to shut down the account,” McClary said. “Even if the account suspension is temporary, it can still be a big hassle.”

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Do I Have to Activate My New Credit Card? (The Answer May Surprise You)


A lot can happen in the seven-to-10 business days it typically takes a new credit card to arrive in the mail. But if you’re having second thoughts about your chosen plastic, you’d be remiss to think that failing to formally activate the account negates its existence.

Issuers typically ask that new cardholders “activate” their cards by calling them or registering the plastic online once it’s in hand. This requirement helps to prevent someone from scooping the new card out of your mail and taking it on a shopping spree, but it doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond that.

“Activation is simply a fraud protection measure,” Nessa Feddis, senior vice president and deputy chief counsel at the American Bankers Association, said. “It’s divorced from whether the account is opened or reported [to the credit bureaus].”

In fact, issuers typically start reporting the card to the credit reporting agencies once you’ve been approved. The application will almost immediately generate a hard inquiry on your credit report and, shortly thereafter, the card’s credit limit will factor into your credit utilization rate, whether you abide by the activation request or not.

Interestingly, there’s also a chance the card itself would work at a store, should you try use it without making that phone call or registering online.

“All American Express cards are flagged as pending confirmation of card receipt when a card is mailed. We strongly recommend Card Members confirm receipt when the card arrives to help verify their identity and mitigate against fraud,” a spokesperson for American Express said in an email. “However, because of our relationship with our Card Members, we are able to selectively approve charges that we evaluate to be of very low risk, even if the card receipt has not yet been confirmed. For example, if a Card Member receives their new card, puts it into their wallet and proceeds to use it at their local coffee shop they frequent, we might be able to approve the transaction.”

Making the Call

It’s still in a cardholder’s best interest to activate a new credit card, since that’s the quickest way to ensure you won’t hit any snags when trying to make a purchase. It also minimizes the odds of fraudulent charges.

If you haven’t received a card you applied for, you should notify the issuer — they can tell you if the account has been used and/or send you a replacement. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your credit to make sure someone else didn’t run up any balances or commit any other nefarious activity in the interim. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at and viewing your credit scores for free each month on A sudden drop in scores can be a sign identity theft is occurring.

If you are having second thoughts about an account you opened, you should call to formally close the card. Just be aware that doing so might affect your credit score.

Keep in mind, too, an issuer may elect to close a card if it remains inactive long enough, so you may want to address an unwanted account head on (or use it from time to time to make small purchases) rather than weather any damage a sudden, unplanned closure may do to your score. (You can find out more about the effects closing a credit card can have on your credit here.)

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