Not being able to make the minimum payments on your monthly bills is a scary feeling. But unfortunately, delinquency is a common phenomenon that has serious repercussions.
If your credit card bill’s due date passes and you don’t make a payment, it’s natural to feel a little panicky. However, there are steps you can take to cope with the situation – emotionally and financially. Take a look at the details below for what to do and expect if you become delinquent on a credit card payment.
1. Contact your issuer
It might seem strange, but the very first thing you should do when you become delinquent on a credit card payment is contact your issuer. Banks don’t like delinquency any more than you do, so they’ll probably be willing to work out a solution that suits both parties. Also, by reaching out to them first, you’re showing that you’re responsible and proactive.
When you place the initial call, be ready to discuss the following:
The reasons for falling behind on your payments (some issuers have hardship programs for people experiencing serious illness, job loss, etc.)
When you’ll be able to make a payment
If you’re able to pay anything right now
Do your best to find some middle ground with your issuer. Proving that you’re doing your best to pay might just help you dodge some of the unpleasantness that usually results from a delinquency (see below).
2. Expect to pay a few late fees and a lot of interest
Once you’ve missed the due date on your credit card bill, you’re likely going to get hit with a late fee. It’s possible that your issuer is willing to forgive the first one if you make an effort to get current. But if you let time pass without reaching out to your issuer, the chances of this become slimmer and slimmer.
Also, as the weeks and months tick by, you’ll get hit with a fee for every billing cycle you don’t make a payment. If you miss two or three payments, expect to have two or three late fees tacked on to what you owe.
And don’t forget about the interest you’re racking up on all those unpaid charges. If you’re more than 60 days delinquent, your issuer will likely impose what’s known as the penalty APR on what you owe. This can be as high as 29.99%, which could get really expensive, really fast.
3. Be prepared to lose your rewards
In your credit card’s terms and conditions, there’s likely a stipulation that you can only earn and redeem rewards as long as your account remains in good standing. Falling into delinquency is considered a violation of those terms by most issuers – after all, an unpaid account certainly isn’t in good standing.
It hurts, but this means you should expect to lose your rewards if you’ve fallen significantly behind on your payments.
4. Think about ways to come up with the cash to get current
The best thing you can do to minimize the damage of a delinquency is to get current as soon as possible. Remember, the longer your delinquency persists, the more you’ll end up paying in late fees. Plus, a short delinquency is less damaging to your credit than a long one.
If your usual income doesn’t leave room for making enough minimum payments to get your account current, it’s time to brainstorm other ways to come up with the cash. Here are a few ideas:
Sell a few unwanted items from around your home.
Offer to help a neighbor out with lawn care or babysitting (for a fee, of course).
Cut a significant monthly expense like cable or your gym membership.
See if a friend or family member is willing to lend you the money.
» MORE: 19 ways to find fast cash
5. Make a plan to deal with the aftermath
Unfortunately, a delinquency will hurt your credit for a period of time. In most cases, it takes seven years for a delinquency to drop off your credit report. But the good news is that if you make other smart credit moves in the meantime, your credit score will rebound.
Your best bet is to make sure that, moving forward, you pay all your bills on time. You’ll also want to keep your credit card balances low (never use more than 30% of your available credit) and limit new credit applications.
If you take these steps, your credit card delinquency will eventually become a distant memory – just don’t let it happen again!