1. Call up customer service and tell them you will close down your account if they insist on charging the fee. There's no guarantee they will waive the fee, but if you're a valuable customer, they just might. It's worth a shot. If they refuse to budge, don't close the account until you open a new account. (See the next step.)
2. Open a new credit card account that has the same credit limit as the card you will be canceling. You don't want your overall debt-to-credit ratio to change when you cancel your card; that's an important factor in determining your FICO credit score. So the strategy here is to make sure that once you cancel the card with the annual fee, your overall credit limit on all your cards will not change, because you have added the new card with the same credit limit.
I recommend you check out card offers from credit unions; they typically charge lower interest rates and have fewer fees. Go to CreditCardConnection.org to search for solid credit union card offers.
3. Go back and cancel your "old" card. And if customer service asks why, make it clear you found a better card that doesn't sock you with fees. Money talks, people. If more of you take your business elsewhere, the banks will have to listen. They can't charge fees on accounts they don't have! When you cancel a card, you are telling them you won't be a victim to their greed.
4. Don't sweat the impact to your credit history. It is absolutely true that FICO factors in how long you have had a card; but it is just 10 percent of your overall score. And the reality is that it can take years for a canceled card to be removed from your credit report. The bottom line is that the impact of canceling the card—if any—will be minimal.
The new credit card law and what Suze says it means to you