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I Missed a Credit Card Payment and It Wasn’t My Fault. What Can I Do?

November 19, 2013
Credit Score, Personal Finance
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Miss a credit card payment? That can really cost you. First, you’ll be hit with a late fee, usually around $15 to $35. A single instance won’t set you back too much, but repeat offenses add up quick.

Next, there’s a chance the credit card company will increase your interest rate. This can end up costing much more than a one-time penalty fee. If you’re still enjoying a 0% introductory APR offer, that could very well be revoked.

And lastly, a missed credit card payment will put a nasty mark on your credit report. Your credit score will take a hit, and you’ll have a harder time getting loans, apartment rentals and even jobs in the future.

Fortunately, credit card companies want your business. Unless you have a seriously delinquent account, they value your continued loyalty far more than a single late fee payment. If you missed a credit card payment and have a halfway decent excuse, you may be able to talk the company into cutting you a little slack. Here are steps to approaching your credit card company about forgiving late payments:

1. Prepare for the phone call

Before you pick up the phone, prepare your case. You wouldn’t go to court without rehearsing an argument and gathering evidence. The same principle applies here. Figure out the reason for your late payment and choose your language carefully to reflect positively on your character. You shouldn’t lie, but credit card companies won’t be impressed by “I forgot.”

Round up any relevant documents and make sure you know the basic circumstances surrounding your late payment. Grab your receipts and bank records, and make note of the date of the billing cycle and date of the actual payment. If you can present yourself as organized, the customer service rep may have a more favorable impression of you.

2. Explain yourself

Once you get on the phone with the credit card company, the first step is simply to explain your situation. Describe the circumstances that prevented you from paying on time. The tone of your plea carries almost as much weight as the content. Remember to remain penitent. If you missed a payment, your credit card company will still hold you accountable — even if it was because of a family emergency or natural disaster. Be apologetic, not entitled. If this is the first time you’ve missed a payment, be sure to emphasize your responsible payment history.

3. Negotiate

Ask if they can waive the late fee, leave your APR alone and refrain from reporting the missed payment to the credit bureaus. In some cases, they will gladly forgive first-time offenders. Other times, you may need to exercise your negotiation skills. If you haven’t made the payment yet, you should do that right away. If that’s not possible, tell the customer service when you’ll send the payment — and make sure you stick to it.

One technique that has worked for some consumers is offering to sign up for automatic payments in exchange for forgiveness. Credit card companies are often happy to oblige, because this almost guarantees they’ll receive their money on time. If that doesn’t work, you may need to tell the company you’ll close your account if the late payment cannot be forgiven. Credit card issuers value profitable customers more than late fees. If you have a history of paying responsibly, the company will likely oblige to keep you.

4. Follow up if necessary

If the company still refuses to grant amnesty, you can throw a Hail Mary pass. Craft a letter describing the circumstances surrounding your late payment and make your case as clearly as possible. Again, tone is important. Be civil, but direct. Keep a level head while plainly stating your wishes. Send it off to customer service, making sure to include the relevant documentation and the name of the person you spoke with on the phone. The odds of this letter changing the company’s decision are slim, but it may just make the difference.