Credit Cards

Forgot to pay your credit card? Here’s how to minimize the damage

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Don’t assume you’re stuck with the consequences of a missed credit card payment.

Key points

  • If you accidentally miss a credit card payment, it could hurt your credit score.
  • You could also end up receiving interest charges and late fees.
  • A phone call could mitigate the damage.

If you have a credit card, making sure you pay your bill every month should be a priority. You’ll want to be absolutely sure that you’re at least making the required minimum payment on all of your cards. And ideally, you’ll want to pay each card in full to avoid carrying a balance.

However, sometimes things go unnoticed and you end up forgetting to make a payment on one or more of your cards. If this happens, it can have serious financial consequences.

The good news is that there are often ways to mitigate the damage and avoid some of the more damaging effects of not paying your bill.

Possible Consequences of a Missed Credit Card Payment

It’s important to understand exactly why skipping a credit card payment can be so problematic in the first place. Not paying your bill on time, even if it happens by mistake, could result in:

  • Interest charges, which you would not have owed if you had paid your balance in full by the due date.
  • A penalty for not paying what is due.
  • A penalty interest rate kicks in, raising the APR on your card and making finance charges more expensive and debt harder to pay.
  • A damaged credit score if you are at least 30 days late and the credit card company reports your lateness to all three major credit reporting agencies. This consequence can be the worst, as a record of a late payment can stay on your report for years and potentially dramatically lower your score.

None of these outcomes is desirable, but you can often avoid most or all of them if you act quickly.

How to limit the consequences of a missed credit card payment

The best thing to do if you forget to pay your credit card is to contact your card issuer the moment you identify the oversight. You’ll want to pay the bill right away when you make this phone call so you don’t take any longer. And you’ll want to explain to the customer service representative that you made a mistake and ask what they can do to help you.

Now, if you don’t routinely make payments, the answer may be nothing. The card company may not be willing to work with you at all if you’re in the habit of paying late or not paying at all, and you may be stuck with the damage a late payment can cause.

But if you’re always, or almost always, on time, you’ll often find that the card issuer is willing to help you correct the forgotten payment, as long as you do it right away. In fact, once I accidentally missed a payment, my card company refunded my interest charges and late fees, and assured me they wouldn’t put a black mark on my credit. All I had to do was apologize, explain the reason for my carelessness, pay the amount, and ask.

In some circumstances, it may take more than one phone call for a customer service representative to be willing to work with you.but it is worth trying several times as the consequences of a late payment can be dire.

You’ll also want to take steps to avoid a similar mistake in the future, which often means setting up automatic payments to ensure you never miss a payment again.

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