If you are a careful money manager who fell into debt because of unusual circumstances (medical or veterinary bill, loss of employment or some other emergency) and NOT because you spent more on your credit cards than you could afford to pay off each month, then leave the accounts open. Doing so will help your credit score, because the amount of revolving debt you have is a significant factor in your credit score. Just be sure to put the cards away. Don’t use them while you pay down your debt consolidation loan.
Credit utilization is the ratio of your account balance to your spending limit. It basically indicates whether you are using too much credit, which, for the purpose of maintaining good or excellent credit, is generally above 30% of what’s available. The ratio is calculated for each of your credit cards individually as well as for all of them collectively. The lower your credit utilization ratio(s), the better it generally is for your overall credit score.
Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer. In general, a consumer with good credit can apply for credit a few times each year before it begins to affect their credit score. If you’re already starting with below-average credit, however, these inquiries may have more of an impact on your score and delay your ultimate goal of watching your credit score climb.