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 with interest charges and late fees.
  • A phone call could mitigate the damage.

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

However, sometimes things slip through the cracks 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 most damaging effects of not paying your bill.

Potential consequences of a missed credit card payment

First, it’s important to understand exactly why missing a credit card payment can be so problematic. Not paying your bill on time, even if it happens in error, can lead to:

  • Interest charges, which you would not have had to pay if you had paid your balance in full before the deadline.
  • A late penalty for not paying what was due.
  • A penalty interest rate is triggered, which increases the APR on your card and makes finance charges more expensive and debt harder to pay off.
  • A damaged credit rating if you are at least 30 days late and the credit card company reports your lateness to the three major credit reporting agencies. This consequence can be the worst, as a late payment record can stay on your report for years and potentially drop your score dramatically.

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

How to Limit the Fallout of a Missed Credit Card Payment

The best thing to do if you forget to pay your credit card is to contact the card issuer as soon as you identify the oversight. You’ll want to pay the bill right away when you make that phone call so you won’t be late. And you’ll have to explain to the customer service representative that you made a mistake and ask them what they can do to help you.

Now, if you usually miss payments, the answer may be nothing. The card company may not be willing to work with you at all if you have a habit of paying late or not paying at all, and you may be stuck with the damages a missed payment can cause.

But if you’re always – or mostly always – on time, you’ll often find that the card issuer is willing to help you fix the missed payment as long as you fix things right away. In fact, when I once missed a payment by accident, my card company reimbursed me for interest charges and late fees, and assured me that they would not put a black mark on my credit. All I had to do was apologize, explain why I forgot, pay the amount and ask.

In some circumstances, it may take several phone calls for a customer service representative to agree to work with you.but it is worth trying several times because the consequences of a missed payment can be very serious.

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

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