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Unable to pay your credit card minimum payment? Here’s what to do

Find out how missing a payment could affect you and what to do about it.

There’s a whole range of reasons you could miss the deadline for a credit card payment – maybe you’re struggling with multiple bills, seeking employment or traveling and simply not keeping track of your credit card statements. Whatever the case, there are serious consequences for missing the payment due date. Here’s what to do to minimize the impact and prevent it from happening again.

What to do if you’re unable to pay your credit card minimum payment

If you’re struggling with money and know you won’t be able to pay your credit card when due, stay calm. These steps will help you deal with the situation, help reduce the impact a late payment could have on your finances and reduce credit card debts over the long term.

  • Contact your credit card company.

    Call your credit card company using the phone number on the back of your card, and let them know about your circumstances so they can work with you to resolve the situation. Credit card companies are more than willing to help you find a way to resolve your situation. After all, they’d much rather you pay off your card eventually rather than never. A few common options include:

    • Request a due date extension.

      If you know when you’ll be able to make at least the minimum payment on your card, you could request that your credit card company extend the due date for a particular statement. If your request is approved you could avoid fees and negative details on your credit report, but it will be at your credit card company’s discretion.

    • Bargain.

      If you’ve traditionally had a positive relationship with your provider, you might try bargaining on your own terms. This can help you create a payment plan that exists outside of the typical relief options offered by your provider.

  • Speak with a credit counselor about entering a Debt Management Program (DMP)

    Credit counseling agencies and debt relief companies offer Debt Management Programs (DMPs) to help people struggling to repay what they owe. Counselors in these programs work with your credit card provider(s) to lower your interest rate(s), consolidate your debts into a single monthly payment and develop a plan to get you debt-free in 5 years or less. To qualify, you must be experiencing “financial hardship,” which means that significant and unexpected life events must be preventing you from making normal repayments (i.e. divorce, natural disasters, illness, loss of a loved one or taking on way more debt than you can handle).

  • Get your finances in order

    Once you get a little breathing room between you and your bills, take stock of your income, bills, what you owe on your credit card and any other financial information in your household. This can provide a wider view of what you owe versus what you earn, which can help you make a plan to tackle your financial challenges. As part of this review, you should study the rates and fees of your credit cards and prioritize which credit card bills need your attention first, being sure to factor in all of your living expenses as well.

  • Consolidate if possible

    If you have multiple credit card bills and can’t manage to pay the minimum on all of them, look into your balance transfer options. You can simplify your payments while potentially netting a promotional 0% balance transfer APR. With the right card, you can save big on interest fees over the long term.

  • Prioritize

    Figure out which payments deserve your attention first. These are often cards with high interest or cards with a great promotional rate that’ll revert to a high interest rate. Remember that not all issuers report late payments to the credit bureaus at the same time. It might be better to make a payment on a card that gets reported every month instead of a card that gets reported every 3 or 4 months. Be sure to take into account debts outside your credit card as well such as mortgages, student loans and car loans, because missing too many payments on these debts could mean losing an important item.

The consequences of not paying your credit card on time

What happens when you miss a payment on your credit card varies depending on the circumstances and your credit card provider. But here are some key factors to keep in mind.

  • You could be charged a late payment fee.
    Most credit cards charge you a fee if you don’t pay the minimum amount required by the due date on your statement. This can be up to $39 and is applied after the due date on the statement. However, some credit card providers may forgive a late payment fee if it’s your first time. If this happens often to you, consider a card with no late payment fee.
  • The details will be added to your credit history.
    Depending on your credit card provider, and how many payments you miss, the details can stain your credit score for 6 years.
  • You’ll be charged interest.
    If you don’t pay your credit card balance in full by the due date, you will start accruing interest. Interest can accrue quickly if you’re not on top of your payments.
  • You could be charged a penalty APR.
    Most credit card providers may charge a penalty APR if you make 2 or more missed payments. This can be up to 5% higher than your usual interest rate and can apply indefinitely. If you often carry a balance, this can make it even more difficult to make your minimum payments.
  • You could lose your intro APR period.
    Missing your credit card payment often leads to losing your 0% intro APR period. This can seriously impact your finances, especially if it’s early in your intro APR period.
  • It may lead to a default notice.
    If you do not make a payment on your credit card in 60 to 90 days, it can be classified as being “in default”. This results in an official notification from your credit card issuer and a listing on your credit history. The provider may close your credit card account if your bill goes unpaid for a long period of time. Default account listings are a major black mark on credit files and should be avoided at all costs.
  • You could have to deal with debt collectors.
    If you don’t make a payment on your credit card account for more than three times, your issuer may pass the debt on to a collection agency. Debt collectors have a different approach to credit card companies and it could be much more difficult to deal with the situation if they get involved.

Tips to help you pay your credit card balance on time

  • Budget for payments.
    Making room in your ongoing budget for credit card payments will help ensure you’re prepared to make payments when the due dates arrive. You may even want to go over your previous statements and work out your average payment.
  • Sign up for automatic payments.
    Most credit card companies provide an auto payment option for your account. This means the funds will automatically come out of your nominated debit or savings account before or on the due date for each statement so that you don’t have to worry about late payments. You’ll also have the option of paying the full amount owed, the minimum payment, or a fixed amount above the minimum.
  • Pay off your card before the due date.
    If you’re going overseas or know you might forget about your credit card payment in the future, you could choose to pay off the balance sooner than required. The due date on your statement is really the latest you should make a payment, so transferring money to your credit card account beforehand is fine.
  • Choose a card that suits your needs.
    Do you know which card is right for you? For example, if you have a card with a high annual fee and high interest rate but you rarely make purchases and usually carry a balance, your card will likely cost more in the long run than a card with no annual fees and a low interest rate (not counting promotional interest rates). Think about how you typically use your credit card, the features you want, and the type of rewards you’ll get the most out of, and then compare options to find a card that meets your needs.

Bottom line

Can’t pay credit card debts? If you’re strapped for cash or not keeping track of your credit card bills, you could miss the payment due date and end up dealing with a whole range of subsequent issues. But being aware of the potential impact and what you can do about it will help you manage your credit card payments in a way that works for you.

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Written by

Kliment Dukovski

Kliment Dukovski was a personal finance writer at Finder, specializing in investments and cryptocurrency. He's written more than 700 articles to help readers compare the best trading platforms, understand complex investment terms and find the best credit cards for their needs. His expert commentary has been featured in such digital publications as Fox Business, MSN Money and MediaFeed. He’s also well-versed in money transfers, home loans and more — breaking down these topics into simple concepts anyone can understand. In another life, Kliment ghostwrote guides and articles on foreign exchange, stock market trading and cryptocurrencies. See full profile

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