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If you can’t pay a bill, it might seem better to send in a partial payment than to send nothing at all. Know that what you're lacking in funds you'll likely have to make up for in proactive communication with your creditor.
Your creditor may cash the check, but that doesn’t mean you’re not considered late. And late payments can have a big impact on your credit.
If you are considering paying less than the minimum payment due:
Contact the creditor beforehand. Ask it to accept a partial payment without late fees, to let you skip a payment, or to change the due date. Ask if the payment you’re considering will be reported as late. Find out if the creditor offers hardship programs.
Make arrangements to pay the shortfall. If you don’t catch up, it’s very likely that you’ll be reported late every month that the deficiency lingers.
Don’t delay the inevitable. If your hardship is not temporary, partial payments are not going to help. Explore debt relief options.
Lastly, be strategic about your bills if you can’t pay them all in full. Necessities such as rent and food and perhaps transportation are higher priority than, say, student loans or credit cards or debt collectors. (See “How to Pay Bills When You Can’t Pay Your Bills.”)
Here’s a look at how much breathing room you have on different types of debt:
Real trouble starts in ...
90 to 120 days
Foreclosure, loss of home
1 day past due (though many lenders wait 60 days)
Repossession, collection of unpaid debt
Wage garnishment, tax refund seizure, partial seizure of Social Security benefits
Private student loans
Lawsuit, wage garnishment
Account charged off, sold to collections
Depends on amount, aggressiveness of collector
Lawsuit, wage garnishment
10 days after IRS sends first notice demanding payment
Wage garnishment, property or bank account seizure
Varies by state
Driver's license suspension, tax refund seizure, passport revocation, wage or benefit garnishment, property liens, jail
Depends on provider
Account turned over to collectors
Does a partial payment affect your credit score?
Partial payments could have a negative impact on your credit score. That’s because your creditor may mark the payment as missed or delinquent if you don’t at least make the minimum payment.
A late payment stays on your credit report for 7½ years after the account is first reported late.