If you can’t pay a bill, it might seem better to send in a partial payment than to send nothing at all.
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:
|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|
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 seven years after the account is reported late.