If you pay a credit card bill late, you may face late fees or see your interest rate increase to a penalty APR. If the payment is more than 30 days late, it will be reported to the credit bureaus as well, which can hurt your credit score. Your credit score shouldn't be affected if you're less than 30 days late with your payments. You can also call to ask your credit card company to waive the late fee and/or reinstate your regular interest rate. If you have a habit of paying on time, you have better a chance of the credit card company granting those requests.
Written by Attorney Curtis Lee.
Updated June 21, 2022
Making your debt payments on time is one of the most important factors that determines your credit score. So if you’re facing a late payment with your credit card company, it’s understandable for you to worry about the consequences.
You can expect your credit score to take a hit, but how much it moves will depend on how late the payment is and how often you make late credit card payments. The good news is that as long as you don’t make a habit of making late 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.
What Happens if My Credit Card Payment Is Late?
Making a late payment often comes with 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 means 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 have a 0% introductory interest rate, the credit card company may cancel it if you make a late credit card payment. 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 Your Payment Is Less Than 30 Days Past Due…
If your missed payment is less than 30 days late, it shouldn’t impact your credit report. 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. Here’s what to look out for:
You’ll most likely have to pay a late fee unless you can ask your credit card lender to forgive the late payment. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the average credit card late payment fee was $26 in 2019. Some credit card issuers charge higher fees for subsequent missed payments, so if you miss one payment, try to make your next six payments on time to avoid higher fees.
We discuss how to ask for a late fee waiver later in this article.
Penalty Interest Rates
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. 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.
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 Your Payment Is More Than 30 Days Past Due…
A typical credit card billing cycle is 30 days. So if you pay your credit card more than 30 past the payment due date, things get more serious. You’ll likely have to pay a late payment fee and face a higher interest rate as a result of a penalty APR. Also, your credit score is likely to take a hit.
How Does a Late Payment Affect Your Credit?
If you make your late payment within 30 days after the due date, then it’s unlikely to have a negative impact on your credit score or report. But most credit card companies report payments that are more than 30 days past due to at least one of the three major credit bureaus. Many report to all three. This is why being more than 30 days late making a paymentcan harm your credit score and report.
How Much Will a Late Payment Hurt Your Credit Score?
As a general rule, the better your credit history, the bigger the drop in your credit score if you pay past the 30-day mark. This is because having a higher credit score means the borrower is less likely to make a late payment than those with a lower credit score. So any late payment is a bigger surprise for those with better credit histories and results in a larger drop in their credit score. Your credit history and prior credit score make a big difference, too. Each credit reporting bureau has its own way of calculating credit scores.
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 have on your credit report and can be much harder to fix than just making future payments on time.
It’s a good idea to check your credit report at least once a year. You’re entitled to a free annual report from each of the three major credit bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com. While a late payment on your credit history can stay there for up to seven years, remember there are lots of things you can do to improve your credit score.
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Contact the Credit Card Company Immediately
The moment you learn that you missed a payment, make at least the minimum monthly payment and pay the late fee, if possible. If you can afford it, pay off your entire existing balance. Then call your credit company and ask to discuss your late payment. If this is your first time paying late or you otherwise have a good payment history with your credit card company, let them know. They’re more likely to work with you on the matter. Also, tell them your account is now up to date and paid in full (if applicable).
How To Ask the Credit Card Company To Waive the Late Fee
If you ask nicely and remind the account representative 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 because they want to retain you as a customer. 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.
How To Ask To Have the Penalty Interest Rate Reset
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. This 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, they’re less likely to agree to waive the late fee or reset your penalty interest rate.
Tell the Credit Card Company Why You Were Late
Sometimes perfect credit card customers make late payments for reasons unrelated to their ability to handle personal 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. You can always explain such situations to your credit card company.
If you’re experiencing financial difficulties due to a layoff, losing a family member, or another serious life change, your credit card lender may have a variety of relief options available, including:
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.
Make a Plan To Prevent Future Late Payments
To avoid missing another credit card payment deadline, you can set up autopay. With autopay, you set the date you want your automatic payments to be sent to your credit card lender. You choose the amount that will be sent on each autopay cycle to your credit card company. You can pick a minimum amount to match your monthly minimum payment, pay your total statement balance each month, or set another amount that works for you.
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 for your bank to charge you an overdraft fee. If you need help keeping track of your autopay, you can set up text or email reminders or a recurring calendar reminder to let you know when a credit card bill payment is coming due.
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, 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.