On one of my cards (one that I don't really use), I have a balance of $70. If I do nothing, it will pay itself off over the next few months. (It's set to automatically make the minimum payment on schedule, which is also really low, like $25, and the interest is not expected to be significant on such a low amount).

I've heard that if a credit account goes too long without any balance, it won't help my credit score (because the people doing the credit rating will think it's a closed account), and the account is of a significant size ($6000).

Is it better for my credit score if I leave this ridiculously low amount on the card and let it pay itself off over the next couple of months; or should I pay it all off right now and get it back to zero? Which is better for my credit rating, and why?

2 Answers 2


Utilization is a snapshot. When I apply for credit, I see an inquiry on my credit report which lasts for 2 years. Depending on my score, there's a ding to the number which may or may not really matter.

Utilization, on the other hand, is based on the current cycle. One month, I paid my card in full, the day before the cycle closed. Zero utilization. Lost 15-20 points on my score. Next month it was back. I recently took a zero interest advance which was sizable, pushing my utilization above 30% and trashed my score. When it's paid back, the score will recover.

Per the comment, below, note that utilization is calculated from the balance on the statement. A payment before the statement is cut can make the reported balance be zero, or a number that in the range you wish, depending on your payment amount. (thanks, Eric)

In your case, first, if you are not applying for a new loan, whether it's buying a car, house, etc, or just getting another card, your score doesn't really matter. Obviously, you don't want to pay late, or do anything that has a lasting impact, I mean the slight variation that utilization impacts the score.

If you still wish to be score OCD (not judging, many people just like to go online and see a shiny 800 every week) I'd pay the card in full, never pay interest on a card, but use it every month. Unless your grocery store discounts for cash, just use it there, or for gas, etc, and pay it in full. The ideal number seems to be just under 10%, per this graphic from CreditKarma

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For what it's worth, if I drop my utilization back to normal, under 10%, this is my predicted score -

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Funny, though, a simulated drop to zero boosted it further, to 831, which contradicts what the site said prior, that zero is worse than just low, regular usage.

  • 2
    It's worth emphasizing that the balance that matters is the balance you carry at the statement date. If you want to carry a non-zero balance, just ensure you pay off the card after the statement date each month. If you are worried about the balance being too high, then pay it down before the statement date.
    – Eric
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:29

It is better to pay it off. In order to maximize your score, what you want is a lot of available credit and very little of it utilized. Don't purposely carry a balance.

It is true that if you don't use a card for a long time it may go inactive and this can hurt your score. However, spending a little using the card (once or twice a year is enough) is what's wanted to keep it active, not maintaining a balance.

The best thing would be to have a ton of cards, with large credit capacity, that you have had for a long time, that you use once in a while, and you always pay off at the end of the month.

  • +1 for paying it off. However, the 'best thing' is not always clear. Having a large credit capacity may be considered a high risk from a lender's perspective, since the borrower can immediately acquire a large amount of unsecured debt. This can be a factor when getting a mortgage or other significant loan.
    – jkuz
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:39
  • @jkuz If that's correct, it's the first time I've heard this. I don't think large credit capacity harms your credit score, but I could imagine lenders looking at it separate from the score. Is that what you are saying?
    – farnsy
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 3:40
  • Yes, you are right that I don't believe it will ever hurt your FICO to have more available credit. Especially in today's environment, lenders seem to be taking a more 'holistic' view of a person's credit risk, which means looking at more than just the FICO. This is more of a personal observation, as I don't believe many (any?) lenders actually publish this kind of data. My main point is that 'better FICO' isn't always a guarantee that a lender views you as a 'lower risk'
    – jkuz
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 16:36

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