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What Happens When You Miss a Credit Card Payment?

Here’s how to minimize the financial damage if you miss a credit card payment.

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Life can get pretty busy, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. Missing a credit card payment could happen to anyone, but it’s important to know the ramifications. 

Read on to find out what to do if you’ve missed a credit card payment -- including how to minimize the damage and how to prevent missing a payment in the future.

What happens when you miss a payment?

Missing a payment can have a number of effects on your financial life. The consequences of missing a credit card payment depend on your payment history and how long you go without paying. If you have a history of missing payments, the consequences will be more dire than if it’s a one-time occurrence.

You’ll be charged a late payment fee

First and foremost, you’ll incur a late payment fee. Most issuers outline how large the fee will be in the card terms, but generally may charge $30 for your first late payment. This will be a one-time payment so long as you don’t miss further payments. If you do, the late payment fee goes up to $41, but issuers are currently allowed to charge up to 100% of your minimum required payment in late fees.

You could lose your grace period

Credit cards typically give a 21-day grace period from your statement closing date to your payment due date. You can avoid paying interest charges by making your payment before this period ends. If you miss a payment you’ll lose your grace period, and your new purchases will begin to accrue interest.

You could be hit with a penalty APR

If you miss a payment, you could also get stuck with a penalty annual percentage rate (APR). A penalty APR is a punitive APR your issuer will apply that’s usually capped at 29.99% -- far higher than the standard APR. 

When you miss a payment, after receiving notice from your issuer, your new purchases will begin to accrue interest at the penalty rate. If you miss two payments -- meaning your account is delinquent for 60 days -- your full statement balance can accrue interest at the penalty rate.

Your future credit products could have higher interest rates

In addition to a potential penalty rate, missing a payment could result in a higher standard interest rate for your card and future new credit cards. Missing a payment could also result in losing any introductory APR your credit card may have. When you miss a payment, your credit score will also suffer, as payment history is a major factor in your credit score.

Does missing a payment affect your credit score?

Missing a payment won’t immediately affect your credit score, as credit card issuers only report a missed payment to the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- after 30 days. That means you have 29 days to fix the mistake and avoid a missed payment showing up on your credit report. Missed payments could stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

If you start with a credit score of 607, recording just one missed payment will drop your score to between 570 and 590, depending on your payment history, according to FICO. Your credit score will drop more or less depending on how high it was originally.

What to do if you miss a credit card payment

There are a number of actions to take if you miss a credit card payment:

  • Pay the minimum as soon as you can. You have 30 days before your issuer reports the missed payment to the credit bureaus, meaning you can avoid any damage to your credit score if you pay as soon as possible. If you pay the minimum as soon as you’re able each month, you can avoid the headache of a missed payment altogether.
  • Contact your issuer. While you may still incur a late payment fee or penalty APR, your credit card issuer may work with you to help. You could potentially negotiate a lower minimum payment if you’re struggling. If you’re able to pay the full balance immediately, your credit card issuer may be willing to waive the late fee.
  • Don’t miss another payment. Missing another payment will result in lower credit scores and higher interest rates.

If you do end up doing some damage, there are ways you can improve your credit score.

How to avoid paying your credit card late

Take these steps to avoid missing a credit card payment and the financial problems it can lead to.

  • Set up automatic payments. Most credit card issuers allow you to set up automatic payments to help you avoid missing payments.
  • Contact your issuer to move your due date. You can work with your issuer to choose a due date that works best for you. Some credit cards let you set your due date online.
  • Set up account alerts. Most credit card companies will let you set up alerts that are sent to you ahead of time to ensure you know when your payment is coming up.

Missing payments will lower your credit score, increase your interest rates and result in fees. Communicate with your issuer and have a plan in place to make sure you’ll never have to deal with the repercussions of missing a payment.

What to do if you can’t make the minimum payment

If you can’t make the minimum payment on your credit card, contact your credit card company immediately. 

If the situation is temporary and you have a history of making on-time payments, your issuer may lower your minimum payment amount, waive fees or extend your grace period for a set period of time. 

If the situation you’re facing is more permanent, still reach out to the credit card issuer – you may be able to negotiate a lower minimum payment or alternative payment plan. Remember: It’s better to ask for assistance before a payment is due, even if you can’t make the minimum payment.

What happens if you never pay your credit card?

The consequences of not paying your credit card can start with a late fee and higher interest rate, but if you never make a payment on your credit card, the consequences will be much more severe.

For one, your credit score will drop even more than if you missed a couple payments. Your credit card company will report that you haven’t made any on-time payments, which counts against your payment history, and your credit utilization will continually increase as your balance balloons. 

Typically, once your account is 180 days past due, your credit card company will charge off the account -- meaning they’ll permanently close your account. Charge-offs remain on your credit report for seven years, and can affect your ability to get approved for new credit accounts like loans and the interest rate you’d be charged. And the amount that was charged off doesn’t disappear -- you’ll still be responsible for paying what you owe. 

If your credit card bill remains unpaid, your creditor can also sell your debt to a collection agency and pursue legal action for nonpayment. If they can successfully prove in court that you owe the amount, your issuer can use that judgment to get an order to garnish your wages.

The bottom line

Missing payments will lower your credit score, increase your interest rates and result in fees. Communicate with your issuer and have a plan in place to make sure you’ll never have to deal with the repercussions of missing a payment.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Evan Zimmer has been writing about finance for years. After graduating with a journalism degree from SUNY Oswego, he wrote credit card content for Credit Card Insider (now Money Tips) before moving to ZDNET Finance to cover credit card, banking and blockchain news. He currently works with CNET Money to bring readers the most accurate and up-to-date financial information. Otherwise, you can find him reading, rock climbing, snowboarding and enjoying the outdoors.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a senior editor for CNET Money with a focus on credit cards. Previously, she covered personal finance topics as a writer and editor at The Penny Hoarder. She is passionate about helping people make the best money decisions for themselves and their families. She graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and has been a writer and editor for publications including the New York Post, Women's Running magazine and Soap Opera Digest. When she isn't working, you can find her enjoying life in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her husband, daughter and a very needy dog.