What It Means to Max Out Your Credit Card

Learn Why You Should Avoid This

A woman sits across from a huge credit card
••• © Stephen Swintek / Stone / Getty

If your credit card comes with a credit limit—the maximum amount you can spend on your card—you'll want to keep your balance well below that limit credit limit. For example, if you needed money to cover an emergency and your cards were maxed out, you might find yourself in a financial pickle.

When Is a Credit Card Maxed Out?

A maxed-out credit card is at, very near, or even over its credit limit. For example, if your credit limit is $1,000 and your credit card balance is $1,000, by definition, your credit card is maxed out. If you don't pay your balance down before finance charges are applied to your account, the added interest could push your balance the credit limit, resulting in a credit limit fee.

When your credit card is maxed out, your credit card issuer may not allow you to make additional charges until you pay down the balance and open up your available credit again.

What to Do About It?

You don't want to leave your credit card maxed out. It leaves you with no purchasing power, affects your credit score, and puts you at risk of going over your credit limit

There are two ways to correct a maxed-out credit card. First, you can ask your credit card issuer for a credit-limit increase, which would give you more room on your credit card. You can request a bigger credit limit by calling your credit card issuer. Or, some card issuers let you submit a credit limit increase request via your online account.

Your current balance and credit limit may be considered to approve your credit limit increase request. A maxed out balance could cause you to be denied.

The better way to take care of a maxed-out credit card is to pay down the balance as much as you can. Paying in full, if you can afford it, is ideal. Even paying a significant chunk of your balance will bring you far below your credit limit.

How to Avoid Maxing Out Your Credit Card

Maxing out your credit card is avoidable. Regularly monitoring your credit card usage keeps you aware of your balance and credit limit. You can check your balance at any time online, via mobile app, or by calling your credit card's customer services.

Check your card balances often, know each of your card's limit, and make a conscious effort to keep your purchases below your total available credit to avoid maxing out your credit card. Once your balance starts to approach the credit limit, stop using your credit card for new purchases until you pay down your balance.

Maxed-Out Credit Cards and Your Credit Score

If your credit card is still maxed out by the time your credit card issuer reports your account to the credit bureaus—usually on your account statement closing date—the maxed-out balance could affect your credit score.

Nearly one-third of your credit score is based on how much of your available credit is being used, so maxing out your credit card will harm your credit score. Generally, any balance greater than 30 percent of your available credit is likely to have a negative impact on your credit score.

The ratio of your credit card balance to credit limit is known as your credit utilization ratio. The lower the ratio, the better it is for your credit score.

On the other hand, you can pay your balance off before the statement closes, and the maxed-out balance won't be reported to the credit bureaus, thereby saving your credit score.

Maxing out your credit card doesn't always mean that you're an irresponsible borrower. You may have made an intentional decision to charge a high balance on your credit card. For example, because you may want to max out your credit card rewards earnings or to take advantage of a balance-transfer deal. While your credit score may still take a hit from either of these, you can repair the damage by reducing your credit card balance as quickly as possible.

Article Sources

  1. Discover Bank. "What is a Maxed-Out Credit Card?" Accessed Nov. 29, 2020.

  2. Experian. "How Long It Takes for a $0 Balance to Show on Report." Accessed Nov. 29, 2020.

  3. myFICO.com. "Amounts Owed." Accessed Nov 29, 2020.

  4. JP Morgan Chase & Co. "What, Exactly, is a Credit Utilization Ratio?" Accessed Nov. 29, 2020.

  5. myFICO.com. "How Credit Actions Impact FICO® Scores." Accessed Nov. 29, 2020.