Missed a Credit Card Payment? Do This Immediately

If you forgot to pay a credit card bill, here’s what you can do to set yourself up for success.

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Nobody's perfect. We all make our share of mistakes, especially when it comes to money matters. But if your mistake was forgetting to pay your credit card bill, it's imperative that you rectify it at once.

The Consequences of a Missed Payment

Missing a credit card payment could hurt you in a number of ways. First, it could subject you to a late fee, which will typically fall into the $28 to $39 range. Granted, that's not a life-altering sum, but it's also a shame to throw it away. Furthermore, if you fail to pay your bill, you'll start racking up interest on your unpaid balance. Not good.

But missing a payment won't just cost you money; it could also damage your credit score. Of the various factors that go into calculating your credit score, your payment history carries the most weight. Payment history is a measure of how well you pay your bills on time, and being late even once by missing a payment could drag your score down—by a lot.

According to FICO, a payment that's 30 days late could result in a 90- to 110-point drop, even for someone with an excellent credit score who's never missed a payment. And the lower your credit score, the more expensive it'll be for you to borrow money the next time you need to (if you're not denied altogether).

Take Action When You Miss a Credit Card Payment

If you miss a credit card payment, it's critical that you call your credit card company immediately and explain the situation. If you have the money to pay your bill but simply forgot to, offer to make your payment immediately and ask for your late fee to be waived. Chances are, your credit card issuer will comply if this is your first offense.

Just as importantly, by making that payment immediately, you'll avoid damage to your credit score in the process. Credit card companies can't report late payments to credit bureaus until a full 30 days have passed, so if you miss a payment's due date but submit it 15 days later, you're in the clear in that regard.

If you don't have the money to make your payment immediately, but expect to have it shortly, ask your credit card issuer for some leeway on both the late fee and the reporting angle. If you have a solid payment history with that issuer, things should work out.

Keep in mind that you only have to make your minimum payment to be considered current on your credit card bill. You'll rack up interest on whatever portion of your bill remains unpaid, but that won't hurt your credit or cause you to incur late fees.

Avoiding Missed Credit Card Payments

If you missed a credit card payment, it was probably because you simply forgot it was due, or didn't have the money to pay your minimum. To address the first issue, set a calendar reminder to avoid accidentally ignoring your payment due dates, or automate your credit card payments by arranging to have them paid from your bank account directly. Addressing the money issue is a bit trickier, but if you build some savings, you'll have the option to dip into your cash reserves when you don't have enough money on hand for your minimum payments.

Missing a credit card payment can cost you money and damage your credit, so don't let it happen. If you realize you missed a payment, pick up the phone and make things right with your credit card issuer. A few minutes of your time could save you a world of stress in the long run.

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