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How long do credit issuers typically let an account ride before closing it due to (zero balance) inactivity?

Generally 1 - 2 years, but in this environment, it may be less, as credit card issuers cut back on open credit lines.

Let's say you want to avoid this by using the card for a tank of gas or other normal expense. Would it be better to pay it off the following day, or to let the statement cycle close and then pay it immediately?

As long as there is some activity, it probably doesn't matter.

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