If you can’t pay a bill, it might seem better to send in what you can than to send nothing at all.
That’s probably a waste of money. Your creditor may cash the check, but that doesn’t mean you’re not considered late.
“Don’t assume that any payment you make will buy you more time or prevent damage to your credit scores,” NerdWallet columnist Liz Weston says. “You need to talk to the creditor. See if you can work out a payment arrangement that will keep you from being reported as late to the credit bureaus and having the account turned over to collections.”
If you are considering making a partial payment:
- 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, Weston advises. “You don’t want to put this off and continue to throw good money after bad.”
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:
|Debt||Real trouble starts in||Potential consequences|
|Mortgage||90 to 120 days||Foreclosure, loss of home|
|Auto loan||1 day past due (though many lenders wait 60 days)||Repossession, collection of unpaid debt|
|Federal student loans||270 days||Wage garnishment, tax refund seizure, partial seizure of Social Security benefits|
|Private student loans||30 days||Lawsuit, wage garnishment|
|Credit cards||180 days||Account charged off, sold to collections|
|Collections accounts||Depends on amount, aggressiveness of collector||Lawsuit, wage garnishment|
|Tax debt||10 days after IRS sends first notice demanding payment||Wage garnishment, property or bank account seizure|
|Child support||Varies by state||Driver's license suspension, tax refund seizure, passport revocation, wage or benefit garnishment, property liens, jail|
|Medical bills||Depends on provider||Account turned over to collectors|