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How to Handle a Late Credit Card Payment

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In a Nutshell

The good news is that as long as you don’t make a habit of making late credit card payments, having a single late credit card payment won’t have a significant negative effect. This article will cover the effects of making a late payment, how to contact your credit card company to address late payments, and how they will impact your credit.

Written by Attorney Curtis Lee.  
Updated September 18, 2021


One of the most important factors in determining your credit score is your ability to make debt payments on time. So if you’re facing the prospect of a late payment with your credit card company, it’s understandable for you to worry about the consequences. 

The good news is that as long as you don’t make a habit of making late credit card payments, having a single late credit card payment won’t have a significant negative effect. But depending on how late the payment is or how often it occurs, you can expect your bank account or credit score to take a hit. This article will cover the effects of making a late payment, how to contact your credit card company to address late payments, and how they will impact your credit.

What Effects Will a Late Credit Card Payment Have?

Making a credit card payment late comes with potential consequences. At the very least, there will likely be a late fee. Depending on the terms of your credit card agreement, this can be anywhere from $25 to $40. There could also be a penalty APR. This is where your credit card’s interest rate goes up for a period of time until the credit card company is convinced you can make on-time payments again. If you’re not paying any interest when you make a late credit card payment, it’s possible for your introductory 0% interest rate to get canceled. 

These introductory 0% rates are common with balance transfers, which often involve moving a large debt from one credit card to another. So having to pay for interest charges months or years before you expected can be expensive.

Finally, the late payment could get reported to the major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This could hurt your FICO score and negatively affect your credit history. But the exact consequences of a late credit card payment will depend largely on how late you make the payment.

If You Made Your Payment Less Than 30 Days Past Due…

If your missed payment is less than 30 days late, your credit report should remain unchanged. Credit card companies will only report late payments to credit bureaus if your payment is 30 or more days late. But this doesn’t mean there are no negative consequences. You’ll most likely have to pay a late fee unless you can ask your credit card lender to forgive the late payment. Later in this article, we’ll discuss how to make this request.

You may also face a higher interest rate. Credit card companies will sometimes charge a penalty interest rate for late payments, which can be as high as 30%. They may apply this penalty APR to future purchases as well as your current balance. 

If you make six months of on-time payments, your credit card interest rate should go back to its normal rate for any outstanding credit card debt. It’s possible that your credit card company may continue applying the penalty interest rate on future purchases per the terms of your credit card agreement, but sometimes they’ll agree to apply your normal rate to future purchases if you ask them to.

Keep in mind that any of the above consequences can occur if you’re just one day late with your credit card payment. So even though you don’t need to worry about a hit to your credit history for a late payment, you still need to worry about potential late fees and a penalty APR. 

If You Made The Payment More Than 30 Days After Its Due Date…

If your credit card payment is more than 30 days late, things get more serious. Not only will you likely have to pay a late payment fee and face a higher interest rate as a result of a penalty APR, but now your credit score will probably also be affected. Most credit card companies will report your late payment to at least one of the three major credit bureaus. But don’t be surprised if all three get notice of your late payment. And if your credit history includes a late payment, it can stay there for up to seven years.

Contact the Credit Card Company Immediately 

The moment you learn that you missed a payment, make at least the minimum monthly payment if at all possible. Also, pay the late fee if possible. And if you can afford it, pay off your entire balance. The next thing you want to do is call your credit company and ask to discuss your late payment. If this is your first late payment or you otherwise have a good payment history with your credit card company, let them know. Also, bring to their attention that your account is now up to date and paid in full (if applicable). 

Waiving the Late Fee

By asking nicely and reminding them that you have a good credit history, it’s common for credit card companies to agree to refund the late fee. They’re not required to do this, but they may do so as a gesture of goodwill or simply becuase they recognize how easy it is for you to use a competitor’s credit card. It’s also good to be familiar with the terms of your card. Some credit card companies are required to waive the first late fee per the terms of the credit card agreement. For example, one of the benefits of Discover Card is that they’ll forgive the first late payment and not charge a late payment fee.

Resetting the Penalty Interest Rate

If you’ve also been hit with a penalty interest rate, you can ask that it be reset to its original level. As with the late fee refund, the credit card company has discretion as to whether or not they’ll grant this request. Sometimes they’ll agree to do it, but only after you make several on-time payments first. The above advice normally works if you have a great payment history with the credit card lender. If you’ve already made a late payment or two in the past year or so, it’s far less likely they’ll agree to waive the late fee or reset your penalty interest rate.

Telling the Credit Card Company Why You Were Late

Sometimes perfect credit card customers will make a late payment for reasons unrelated to their ability to handle finances. For instance, the credit card customer may never get the bill because the U.S. Postal Service didn’t forward it correctly during an address change. If a comparable situation applies to you, explain it to your credit card company.

Late payments that are due to the coronavirus pandemic will sometimes get special treatment from credit card companies. If your late payment was caused by the coronavirus, ask your credit card company if they have any assistance for their cardholders. They may have a variety of relief options available, including:

  • Payment deferral

  • Lower interest rates

  • Higher credit limits

Some of these relief options won’t directly relate to your late fee, penalty interest rate, or credit report, but they can provide financial help. This can help you avoid a late payment in the future or save you money on interest charges if you need to carry a credit card balance each month.

Preventing Another Late Payment

To avoid missing another credit card payment deadline, you can set up autopay. Many banks and credit card companies make it easy to set up autopay where you set a date you want your automatic payments to be sent to your credit card lender. You can set up autopay so any amount will be automatically sent to your credit card company. This includes an amount you establish, your monthly minimum payment, or your total statement balance. 

If you use autopay, be sure to have enough money in your bank account. The last thing you want is for the autopay to fail because of insufficient funds in your checking account. Or, the credit card bill gets paid, but due to insufficient funds, your bank applies overdraft protection, then charges you an overdraft fee. If you’re not comfortable with using autopay, you can set up text or email reminders to let you know when a credit card bill payment is coming due.

How Will My Credit Score and Report React to a Late Payment? 

The answer to this question depends on how late your payment is. If you make your late payment within 30 days after the due date, then it’s unlikely to negatively affect your credit score or report. But don’t make a habit of making your credit card payments late. If you’re consistently late with your payments, your credit card issuer will hit you with late fees. They could also penalize you with a higher interest rate or close your account.

A late payment that is more than 30 days late will harm your credit score and report. The question is how much your credit score will drop, as each credit reporting bureau will have its own way of calculating credit scores. Also, your credit history and prior credit score make a big difference, too. As a general rule, the better your credit history, the bigger the drop in your credit score after a payment that is more than 30 days late. This is because having a higher credit score means the borrower is less likely to make a late payment. So any late payment is a bigger surprise for those with better credit histories and results in a larger drop in their credit score.

Regardless of your credit score, a payment that is 60 or more days late will result in a more dramatic drop in your credit score. If your payment is late by 180 days or more, your credit card issuer could charge off the debt and send it to a collection agency. This could be devastating to your credit report and score.

Let’s Summarize... 

A late credit card payment isn’t good, but it’s not the end of your financial world. If you act quickly to pay the missed payment and contact your credit card company, any negative effect will be small. But if you often make late payments or your late payment is more than 30 days late, then there’s a good chance you’ll face financial consequences. This includes a late fee, penalty APR, or a drop in your credit score.

If you make a late credit card payment, take it as a lesson learned and do everything you can to avoid doing it again. Create a plan to ensure all payments are made early or within the credit card company’s grace period. Your credit card company will typically only waive a late fee or penalty once. If you pay late a second time, your credit card company won’t be as forgiving. But if you’re struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic, get in touch with your credit card issuer and ask about any relief programs they have for those struggling due to the coronavirus.



Written By:

Attorney Curtis Lee

LinkedIn

Curtis Lee is a writer and co-owner at Marvel Hill Freelance. Curtis earned his Bachelor of Science in Business from Wake Forest University and his Juris Doctor from Villanova University School of Law. After graduating law school, Curtis had the honor of clerking for a state cou... read more about Attorney Curtis Lee

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