There are many reasons someone might stop paying their credit card bill, including a sudden loss of income, a financial emergency, unexpected expenses, poor money management, or even simple forgetfulness and disorganization.
Failing to make at least your minimum monthly credit card payment on time can have some serious financial ramifications, though.
Whether you're worried you're going to miss a payment soon or you already have some late payments on your credit report, understanding what happens when you stop making credit card payments is essential to your financial health.
If you stop paying your credit card bill, the clock will start ticking on your account. The first missed payment date is known as the date of the first delinquency.
A number of negative consequences can, and likely will, result if you simply stop making payments toward your credit card debt. In this article, we'll take a close look at what each of these ramifications can mean. In short, though, you can expect the following to occur:
In general, credit card payments are considered late when 30 days have passed from the due date. According to Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, a late payment usually won't appear on your credit report until the payment is 30 days past due.
Even though a missed payment might not be reported to the credit bureaus right away, that doesn't mean there aren't meaningful consequences immediately.
In many cases, you'll be charged a late fee if you do not pay at least your minimum balance by the due date.
The longer a debt goes unpaid, the more severe the consequences. Let's look at the stages of credit card delinquency to help you understand the general timeline.
If thirty days pass and you still haven't made your credit card payment, there's a chance you'll experience the following:
There are a number of different factors that impact how much one late payment will affect your credit score. For example, the newer the derogatory mark is, the more it will hurt your score.
You can experience a drop in your credit score by as much as 50 or 100 points for one single 30-day late payment on your credit report.
Another factor that can influence the effect a missed payment has on your score has to do with your credit rating before the mark shows up. In general, the higher your score is, to begin with, the more of a drop you'll see when the late payment appears on your credit report.
If another thirty days pass and your credit card payment is now sixty days late, you'll experience even greater financial consequences.
Typically, you will:
Depending on the card agreement you signed when you opened the credit card account, the penalty interest rate might be triggered at this time if it didn't go into effect after 30 days.
Federal law doesn't put any limits on the rates that credit card issuers charge their customers. That being said, there can be ceilings set at the state level.
The 90-day mark is an important milestone in the credit card delinquency timeline.
At this point, the following might occur:
Your credit score has likely already been damaged by the 30- and 60-day late payment marks. However, your score will probably take another big hit, both because of the 90-day late payment and, potentially, a new collections account on your credit report.
According to one financial wellness expert, a 90-day late payment can drop a credit score by as much as 180 points.
The consequences will continue to get harsher once you've missed at least four consecutive payments.
Here are some of the effects you might experience include:
If your payment is missed for this long, the credit card issuer will most likely turn your debt over to a debt collector if they haven't already. This is known as a charge-off.
A charge off means that the creditor has written off your account as a loss. It will also result in your account being closed to future charges. This debt is not forgiven and you are still obligated to pay it off.
Each issuer has its own rules for when they charge off an account. For some, it might be a year or longer, while others might charge off an account in six months or fewer.
If your account is charged off, it will appear as a derogatory mark on your credit report. Marks like charge-offs will stay on your report for up to seven years.
If your debt goes unpaid for more than 180 days, your account will probably be closed if that hasn't already occurred.
Credit card companies continue to report missed payments to credit bureaus until the debt gets turned over to a debt collector, which will likely occur at this point if it hasn't yet.
Now that we have a sense of the delinquency timeline let's take a closer look at what each of these consequences means.
Late payment fees can start showing up right away when you miss a credit card payment.
How much you will owe will depend on your current balance as well as the particular card. There are federal limits on these fees, though, thanks to the Credit CARD Act of 2019.
Under federal law, there is a maximum amount that credit card issuers can charge in the form of late fees. For a first late payment, companies can charge no more than $29. For subsequent missed payments, the cap is $40.
It's important to note that just one late payment can also terminate a promotional 0% APR interest rate. This means that you will be charged interest on the balance of your card going forward, regardless of when the promotion was supposed to end. The interest rate will also apply to the fees you accrue.
When you've missed payments on your card debt, you'll probably be contacted by the creditor.
If enough time passes, the account can be sold or sent to collections. At that point, you'll start receiving communications from the debt collector.
Once your card payment is late by thirty days, the credit card company will most likely report it to one or more of the credit bureaus.
It's important to understand that your payment history is the factor that carries the most weight for your credit score. Your overall credit profile will impact the precise number of points that you'll lose.
In general, a new late payment will reduce your credit score by more points if you have good to excellent credit. If you have poor credit, your credit score probably won't drop by as many points.
Until you bring your account current, the credit card company can continue to report your account as late to the credit bureaus. This means that your credit report will include notes stating that your payment was at least 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, or 180 days late.
Though missed payments are most impactful to your score when they are new, they can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. During this entire period, they can continue to have an effect on your credit scores.
Depending on your card issuer and the terms of your card agreement, a penalty APR can kick in after the payment has been late by a certain number of days.
If you have a promotional 0% APR card, you can lose the promotional interest rate after just one missed payment.
For many companies, a higher penalty APR will be applied once you're sixty days behind. This higher interest rate will be applied to both the existing balance on your account as well as any future transactions you make.
Don't worry-- you might be able to get your lower interest rate back in the future if you've been hit with a penalty APR. Usually, you'll need to make six consecutive on-time payments of at least the minimum payment due. At that point, you might be able to bring your interest rate back down to the level it was before the missed payments.
Depending on the creditor, when your debt is sent to collections can vary. However, the card issuer is likely to assume that you're not planning on making a payment around the 180-day mark. At this point, they'll charge off your account.
Charging off a debt is an accounting procedure used by credit card companies. This allows them to deduct the amount of the unpaid bill from its earnings. However, your debt is not forgiven, and you are still obligated to pay it.
When they charge off your account, creditors might sell or send the account to a debt collector. The collections agency will then attempt to collect the money that you owe.
You will usually see charge-offs and collections accounts on your credit reports. These are derogatory marks that can cause further damage to your credit. They will fall off your credit report in seven years.
At the point when an account is sent to a collector, the account has likely accrued additional interest charges and late fees that have increased the balance far above the initial amount you owed.
When your account is closed due to a series of missed payments, the negative marks that have stacked up on your credit report will remain there for seven years. The clock starts running from the date of first delinquency, which is the date that the first payment was missed.
Once a debt has been sent to collections, you'll start receiving communications from the debt collector.
Debt collectors are notorious for their persistence. They have even developed a reputation for being rude, obnoxious, and even fear-inducing. Getting calls and letters from collections agencies can be stressful, but it's important to know what your rights are.
There are a number of laws that have been put in place to limit annoying and even abusive behaviors by debt collectors. These laws include:
It's possible that either the credit card issuer or collections agency could take legal action against you in order to collect the debt you owe.
If they win, they might be able to force payment in a number of ways, including:
It's important not to ignore a lawsuit filed against you. If you don't respond, they could win in a default judgment. Depending on the state, it's possible that a creditor could win a default judgment even if the statute of limitations has already passed.
Depending on how many months you let go by without paying your bill, your credit report can really start to stack up derogatory marks. This can damage your reputation as a borrower and a consumer in ways that can have a very real impact on your life.
For example, failing to make credit card payments can make it hard to:
Beyond that, having bad credit can strain your personal relationships. Money problems on their own can lead to anxiety, stress, and conflict with the ones you love. Having bad credit can create a lot of tension when your credit file makes it difficult to buy a house, rent an apartment, get a job, or take out a loan.
If you are pretty sure you're not going to be able to make an upcoming credit card payment, don't panic. The first thing you'll want to do is contact your credit card company.
This might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that card issuers want to collect the money they're owed. They might be willing to set up a more affordable minimum monthly payment for you, particularly if you're able to explain that you're experiencing a hardship that impacts your ability to pay.
Here are some other steps you can take if you anticipate you might struggle to pay your credit card bill:
If you've already missed a payment and it's just a few days past due, bring the account current if you're able to.
A missed payment that hasn't yet reached the 30 day mark might not ever show up on your credit report. For that reason, it's a good idea to pay your bill immediately before that first negative mark shows up. Remember, derogatory marks can stay on your report for seven years.
This way, you can contact the credit card company and ask them if they would be willing to refund the interest and fees charged on the late payment. They might not agree to this, and they aren't obligated to. However, credit card companies might be willing to get rid of these fees if you've otherwise had a good track record with them as a borrower.
In the future, setting up automatic payments can help ensure that you don't miss your credit card payments. There are few things more frustrating than having the money in your account to pay a bill only to accrue late fees and interest because you forget to pay it on time.
If you're behind on your credit card payments and feeling overwhelmed, here are some of the things you can do:
Bankruptcy will wipe out your debt, but you should only go this route if there is no other viable solution. It's also important to understand that certain types of debt can't be discharged through bankruptcy, including child support, alimony, certain unpaid taxes, and, in most cases, student loan debt.
When you're worried you won't be able to make a credit card payment, it's understandable to feel overwhelmed. If you've already missed some payments, you might be tempted to ignore the issue altogether.
The truth is, though, the last thing you want to do when you miss a credit card payment is to avoid the situation.
Missing credit card payments can:
Staying on top of your credit can help you achieve a state of financial health. It opens up new opportunities for you and makes it much easier to get a mortgage, take out a car loan, be approved on an apartment application, and more.
You're in the right place if you're on a journey to improve your credit. Make sure you check out our Credit Building Tips blog for more valuable resources to help you along the way.