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We’ve all been there: Things get hectic, your mind is in a million places, and you forget to pay your credit card bill by its due date. It’s understandable — everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, this particular mistake could have serious consequences.
What can happen if you pay a credit card bill late or miss a payment?
Late fees: The average first-time late fee for general-purpose cards in 2019 was $26, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If you’ve made late payments before, you may be charged even more. Some card issuers will waive the late fee if it’s the first time you’ve missed a due date. Call the number on the back of your card and ask if this would be possible for you.
Higher interest rates: Some cards charge a penalty APR, which is higher than the interest you’d normally pay on a balance. You may be subject to that higher rate until you’ve made on-time payments for several months.
A credit score decrease: If your payment is late by 30 days or more, it can result in a lower credit score. Plus, late or missed payments can remain on your credit report for around seven years.
Here are tips for paying your credit card bill on time, every time — no matter what.
Set up alerts
Your credit card issuer will likely provide you with free text and/or email alerts of your bill’s due date. You’ll have to log in to your account and opt in to this notification — it won’t happen automatically. But with a few simple steps, you can have your choice of reminder delivered right to your phone or inbox every month.
If you’d prefer a more hands-off approach to keeping up with your credit card bill, signing up for automatic payments might be just the ticket. With this service, your credit card company will automatically make your monthly payments for you using your linked checking account. Again, you’ll have to opt in, but it’s an easy way to never have to worry about making a late payment in the future.
One word of caution: Autopay is a good option for people who make a salary that’s reliably available every month. If your income is irregular or you simply don’t keep much in your checking account, you’ll need to monitor your balance to be sure that a credit card autopayment doesn’t send you into overdraft.
Move your due date
If you’re struggling to make your credit card payment on time because its due date doesn’t coincide with when you’re paid, log in to your account or call your issuer and see if you can move it. Most are flexible about this date, and some even allow you to select your own due date online.
Check your account often
If you decide that autopay isn’t for you, another idea is to get into the habit of checking your credit card account every day or every other day, so you’re less likely to miss a billing due date. After all, “payment due” is usually prominently displayed on the screen when it’s time to cough up the cash.
You can even make smaller, more frequent payments toward your balance. That can help you build credit because paying more often helps you maintain a lower overall balance, keeping your credit utilization lower. And if you have credit card debt, interest is based on your average daily balance, so smaller payments throughout the billing cycle can help lower the total amount of interest you’ll pay.
Seek help if you need it
You may struggle with paying your credit card on time because you can’t afford the bill. This is a tough and all-too-common situation to be in, especially if an unexpected emergency cost causes you to exceed your usual spending.
Whether your late payment was due to a one-time expense or ongoing money concerns, take some time to review a few recent statements to get a sense of where your money is going every month. You might spot a few easy ways to cut costs, like canceling a subscription you don’t use or renegotiating a bill.
If you’re in a difficult situation because of a job loss, serious illness or other emergency, you can call your issuer to explain your circumstances and see what hardship programs are available. Having a sense of what you can afford to pay each month can help you negotiate terms, like a temporarily lower interest rate.