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Leave home without it

American Express is paying some cardholders to cancel their accounts. Is it a good deal?

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By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

For more information on managing your largest investment, check out Gerri Willis' 'Home Rich,' now in bookstores.

NEW YORK ( -- One big credit card issuer is doing the unthinkable - trying to get rid of customers - as a way of protecting itself from risky customers who don't pay their credit card bill.

1. Get the details

American Express, the "don't leave home without it" people, are paying customers - that's right paying some customers $300 - to pay off their account balances and close their accounts.

This comes after the company has spent the better part of a decade trying to grow its customer base. Accounts over the last few years have grown from 65 million in 2004 to 92 million last year.

Why would they try to unload fee-paying customers?

Analysts say it is a fear of defaults - that is people falling behind on payments and never catching up. Already, those default rates have soared to 8%. American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) did not return calls for comment.

2. Should you take the offer?

Well, don't jump until you consider the following: first, don't drain your emergency funds to do it, especially if you are in danger of losing your job.

Second, consider your credit score. Closing down old accounts has a negative impact on your credit history. And finally, read these offers carefully - there are often time limitations. Bottom line here: don't throw out your mail from your credit card issuer, but read the fine print before accepting the offers.

3. If you decide not to take the offer

Be aware that other credit card issuers are offering perhaps better deals.

Curtis Arnold at told us that the folks who run Emerge Visa are offering credits worth thousands of dollars to people who make significant payments on their credit card debt.

Emerge is a Visa credit card for subprime borrowers, those people with subpar credit scores, similar to the subprime mortgage loans we've talked about so much.

Likewise, Citibank has offered a payment matching program in which cardholders can get a 10% match for any payment made in excess of the minimum payment due.

More common are the companies that offer customers a stick rather than a carrot to get them to pay. Some are bumping up minimum amounts due, raising interest rates or simply cutting total available credit. Chase recently instituted a $10 monthly "transaction fee" for some customers.

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