by Eric Volkman | Oct. 22, 2018
You never want to miss a credit card payment. Your credit score is based on how reliable a borrower you are, and skipping even a few card payments strongly indicates you're not. The more late payments on your record, the higher the chance of your all-important score being negatively affected.
But mistakes happen -- they were mistakes, right? -- even to the best and most well-intentioned of us. If a credit card payment date somehow blows past you, here's what to do.
Don't dawdle. If you take care of the late payment within 30 days of the due date, most likely your issuer won't report it to the three credit bureaus. Pass that date, and they'll get the word out. And that black mark won't go away in a hurry; negative information stays on your credit report for up to seven years.
Fortunately for the tardy, it's easier now than it's ever been to take care of a credit card payment. Your online account management portal allows you to make a payment with only a few clicks. For those who prefer using the phone, a brief call to your issuer's toll-free number should take care of it.
Take advantage of the automatic payment system every clever issuer offers. Almost always, regular monthly autopays can be set up with only a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the screen through your account management portal.
You can, of course, get away with simply taking care of the minimum payment every month, then supplementing with as much extra as you are willing to spare.
A better strategy, though, is to pay a higher amount outright, even double the minimum. In this way, even if the supplemental payments slip your mind or you're indisposed somehow, you'll make some progress towards paying down the overall balance.
Another good instrument in the cardholder toolbox is automated alerts. Opt in (again, ideally through the web portal, although it's possible to set these up by phone) and your issuer will notify you when a statement is coming due. Typically these alerts come by text, email, or both.
Even if you've got autopay established and running, it's a good idea to get these regular reminders. They'll encourage you to pay those above-the-minimum amounts, plus make sure that the autopay is working like it should.
We all get too many texts and emails in our lives, that's true. But if even one credit card reminder notice saves you from missing a payment, it's well worth the slight amount of hassle.
Hopefully forgetting monthly credit card payments is not a regular occurrence for you. If that's the case, it very much behooves you to contact your issuer directly to explain any lapse. The idea here is to show you're trying to correct the mistake. A heart-to-heart with your issuer often makes them quite forgiving.
In the discussion with your issuer, you should at some point ask them to waive the late fee. Although these aren't so burdensome thanks to the law (they're capped at $25 for a first violation, and $35 thereafter), they still constitute an expense you don't need.
Issuers would rather keep you as a paying customer than pinch you with a series of tiny fees. If you've demonstrated at least some level of prudence managing your card -- paying on time for the most part, not carrying a high balance, etc. -- the chances are quite good they'll axe the late fee for the offending lapse.
Although credit issuers can be forgiving, this doesn't mean you should become lax about paying your monthly statements. If you make this a habit, you'll find quickly that your issuer may not be as willing to repeat the favor.
On top of that, not only will your credit profile quickly accumulate a host of negatives, you'll accrue plenty of interest on your balance. Before long, this can and will spiral out of control.
Like any good financial practice, becoming disciplined about paying your credit card debt is a matter of attention and habit. Use those tools your issuer makes freely available, keep an eye on your accounts on at least a semi-frequent basis, make those payments regular, and you'll avoid the problems mentioned above.
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