Published in: Credit Cards | Jan. 11, 2020

What Happens When You Don't Pay Your Credit Card Bill: A Timeline

By:  Lyle Daly

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Problems add up quickly when you're late with your credit card payment.

Everyone knows how important it is to pay your credit card bill on time, but sometimes missed payments happen. It could just be a matter of forgetting, or you could find yourself unable to pay because of financial troubles.

Whether you've recently missed a credit card payment or not, it's good to know what the consequences can be. The potential repercussions will depend on how late your payment is. Here's a timeline that covers the penalties you can face after a day, a month, two months, and beyond. 

A stressed woman looking through her bills at a table with a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images

One day

Potential penalties:

  • A late fee
  • Cancellation of 0% APR intro offer

As soon as your credit card payment is late, the card issuer can charge you a late fee. The maximum amount a credit card company can legally charge for a cardholder's first late fee is $29 as of 2020. On any additional late payments within six billing cycles, the maximum fee amount is $40. The amount of the late fee also can't exceed the amount of the minimum payment that you missed.

Many credit cards either automatically waive your first late fee or don't charge late fees at all. Even if this isn't the case with your card, you may be able to get your card issuer to waive the fee if you call and ask. Card issuers often cut cardholders some slack the first time around.

If your card has a 0% APR intro offer, that could be canceled due to a missed payment, although this will depend on the card issuer.

Fortunately, your missed payment won't affect your credit score just because you're a day or even a week late. That can't happen until at least 30 days without a payment.

30 days

Potential penalties:

  • Second late fee (possible total fees: $69)
  • Credit score decrease

At the 30-day mark, the credit card company can tack on another late fee. Since it's the second late fee within six billing cycles, it can be up to $40. And that's not even the worst of it. This is also when the credit card account could be reported as 30 days past due to the credit bureaus. If that happens, it will cause your credit score to drop.

The amount your credit score decreases will depend on your credit history and how good your score was. If you had an excellent credit score, it could fall by up to 110 points.

60 days

Potential penalties:

  • Third late fee (possible total fees: $109)
  • Credit score decrease
  • Penalty APR
  • Cancellation of 0% APR intro offer

After another month without paying your credit card bill, you could receive a third late fee. The card issuer can report that your account is 60 days past due to the credit bureaus, which will hurt your credit score even more.

At 60 days delinquent is also when the card issuer can legally assess a penalty APR to your account. A penalty APR is higher than a credit card's standard APR, and it can apply to both your current balance and any future charges. In addition, if your card has a 0% APR intro offer that you've been able to keep to this point, the card issuer could elect to cancel it.

If you pay on time for six months, then the card issuer must revert to the standard APR on your balance, but it can continue charging you the penalty APR on any future purchases you make. While not all credit card companies do this, you'll need to contact yours to see how long the penalty APR will last.

90 days

Potential penalties:

  • Fourth late fee (possible total fees: $149)
  • Credit score decrease
  • Account closure
  • Charge off

Once again, you'll get another late fee and your credit score will fall further when your card reaches 90 days past due.

This is also the point when you run the risk of the card issuer closing your credit card and charging off the balance, which means selling the debt to a collection agency. You won't be able to use the credit card anymore, debt collectors will start contacting you, and you'll have another negative mark on your credit file. Alternatively, the card issuer could send your account to its own internal collections department to try to collect the debt first.

The date your credit card gets closed and charged off will depend on the credit card company. It could happen at 90 days, 120 days, or later than that. The absolute latest is usually 180 days.

What happens after the card is closed? If you don't settle the debt, the collection agency could eventually sue you for what you owe.

Avoiding payment problems with your credit card

As you can see, you don't want to be late with your credit card bill. Even missing a payment by one day can cost you money, which is reason enough to set a reminder for yourself or to set up automatic payments.

If you have missed a payment, what's important is catching up as soon as possible. Since the penalties get much worse the longer your account is past due, you don't want to wait around.

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