Do you recommend paying off credit card balances before or after you close the accounts?
Either way is fine. The point is to get rid of them, and stop using the stupid things! I like the idea and the finality of going ahead and closing the accounts, but doing that will sometimes spur credit card companies to do dumb, unfair things - like jack up the interest rates.
You're on the right track, though. Personal finance is 80 percent behavior, and getting credit cards and credit card debt out of your life is a great first step in learning to behave with your money. You don't build wealth or save money by using credit cards, and you're naive if you think you're going to play around with a multi-billion-dollar industry and beat them at their own game. The only way to win against credit card companies is by refusing to play!