It isn’t uncommon to have a late credit card payment now and then — sometimes it’s by accident, sometimes it’s by circumstance. And when you miss a payment, there can be consequences. When you make at least the minimum payment on time, you could avoid negative impacts on your credit score. This article explores some of the effects of being late on a credit card payment. We’ll even offer you a few ideas of how to overcome some of those ill effects.

What causes a late credit card payment?

Any payment that you make after the due date on your credit card bill is considered a late payment. And don’t forget this: on-time payments that don’t cover the minimum amount due also count as late payments. Typically, credit card companies won’t report a late payment to credit bureaus unless it’s more than 30 days late—but there’s no guarantee of that.

During difficult economic times, people sometimes are forced to put the money at hand toward basics like rent, mortgages, food, and medical expenses. For many, the use of a credit card answers their immediate worries, but it can result in a rising credit card payment.

But late credit card payments can happen for the simplest of reasons – forgetfulness. With all of life’s challenges, it’s awfully easy to misplace a bill or just to forget about the due date.

Then there are unusual reasons that might result in a late payment. A recent move or a change of address could cause your credit card bills to be delayed or lost. Sometimes, you might simply neglect to put a stamp on the envelope. Or you might insert the bill backward so the address isn’t readable through the return envelope’s window.

I made a late payment.  What’s going to happen?

Late payments could have several negative impacts on your credit file and finances. A card payment might not seem like a big deal, but credit card companies take a dim view of it. Here are a few things that could happen:

  • Scenario 1. You’re late, but this is the first time, and you pay at least the minimum payment within 30 days of the payment due date. The best-case scenario is that the credit card issuer will only charge you a late payment fee, often $30 or $40. You’ll be charged a late fee every month that your payment is late or when it is less than the minimum amount. They may not report the late payment — but nothing prevents them from reporting it right away.
  • Scenario 2. This is the second or third time you’ve made a late payment. The credit card company could add additional late fees, sometimes in increasingly higher amounts, and it may report the late payments to a credit bureau. That negative mark goes on your credit report, stays in your credit history for seven years, and may lower your credit score.
  • Scenario 3. You haven’t made a full payment in over 60 days. Late fees could accrue. Your interest rate may jump to the “penalty interest rate.” That interest rate could approach 30%, and that could cause a substantial increase in your monthly costs. Credit reports will reflect this information, and your credit score may drop even lower.
  • Scenario 4. If six payments are missed in a row (that’s if your payment is 180 days late), card issuers will likely charge off the account. They can write off the balance as a loss, and that write-off will go onto your credit reports for seven long years. Your credit score will take a big hit, and you’ll still be responsible for the outstanding balance. The lender might pursue the recovery of those funds through a collection agency or by a lawsuit.

The long-term effects of your late credit card payments might be as mild as having to pay a late fee, or as severe as a credit-wrecking default that could cause legal action. The impact on your credit might keep you from getting another card or from increasing your credit limit—or it may prevent you from getting a personal, auto, or home loan. And even if you do get those loans, your lower credit score is likely to bring higher interest rates. You may even have to pay extra fees to get the loan.

What can I do if I miss making a credit card payment on time?

But there are ways to prevent all that from happening. And the first way is to do everything possible to not miss a credit card payment. Set up auto-payments through your bank or have the credit card company draft minimum payments from your checking account. Make sure that you have enough money in your account at that time — you don’t need any overdraft fees. For your own financial protection, make sure that your minimum payment will be made on time, every month. If you don’t use online banking, set multiple calendar reminders to keep you on track.

If you still miss a payment, there are a few things you could do. These ideas might help:

  • Call your credit card’s customer service number right away. Explain why you’re late and apologize for the late payment. Offer to make an immediate, over-the-phone payment (if you haven’t already). If the reason you’re late is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, make sure to say so—some lenders have special rules for that.
  • Ask if they’ll refund the late fee and possibly the extra interest charges. This request gets a better response if it’s the first time you’ve been late. After multiple late payments, lenders tend to be less inclined to waive fees. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • If you strike out on the first call, call back later that day. You’re likely to get a different representative, and you may have better luck with the second one. Be polite and don’t make demands.

Credit management and debt management are important parts of good financial decisions. If a late payment slips in, don’t neglect it. Take action, make a call, see what might be done. You may be surprised how willing some lenders are to help resolve your issue. It just takes time, and maybe a phone call or two. Give it a try.

Learn more about credit cards at Best Egg, where you can find the following articles and more:

What’s a Credit Card APR? 27 Common Credit Card Definitions, Explained

Best and Worst Ways to Use Credit Cards

How Does Credit Card Interest Work: Q&A Guide

How to Win at the Rewards Credit Card Game