What happens if you can't pay your credit card bills?
Here’s what to expect if you miss minimum payments.
May 19, 2022 6 min read
Juggling a budget in order to pay bills can be stressful. There may be concerns about missing payment deadlines and being able to pay everything when it’s due.
If you can’t make your minimum monthly credit card payment, it can help to contact your lender first. But what else might happen? Learn more and see what options might be available.
What could happen if you can’t pay your credit card
Missed credit card payments can happen to anyone. But it can be helpful to know the potential consequences.
If you miss a payment, your credit card company may send you overdue notices about it. These could be in the form of calls, emails, letters and/or texts.
You may also be charged a late fee. And the late fee may increase if another payment is late within the next several billing cycles. To find out exactly how much late fees are, check the terms and conditions of your credit card.
Missed payments could lead to more than just late fees, though. Depending on your card issuer, you may see an increase in your interest rate if you don’t make a required payment within 60 days of the due date. And depending on how late your payment is, your credit scores might take a hit.
What if you can’t pay your credit card for several months?
Some credit card companies may not report past due accounts that are just a few days late. But you may still receive a late payment fee. And once it’s 30 days past due, late payments may be reported to credit bureaus.
Depending on your issuer and your account terms, the lender may apply a penalty annual percentage rate (APR) to your account if it’s been 60 days without a payment.
In general, card issuers report late payments every 30 days. Late payments are only one of several factors that impact credit scores. But usually, the later the payment, the worse it could be for your credit scores.
Card issuers could also send your account to their collection department or a third-party debt collector at any point.
What happens if you never pay your credit card?
When a credit card account goes 180 days past due, the credit card company must charge off the account. This means the account is permanently closed and written off as a loss. But you’ll still be responsible for any debt you owe.
There are a variety of ways that your lender might try to collect the debt. Some of these include using the lender’s collection department or a third-party debt collector.
But just remember that charge-offs could stay on your credit report for up to seven years. And that could have an effect on your credit scores—and how lenders view your applications for other loans or credit cards in the future.
Some card issuers may be willing to work with you if you’re having a hard time making payments. But it’s important to contact your credit card issuer as soon as possible so they know what’s going on.
What options are available if you can’t make your minimum payment?
To help get you back on track, here are some things you can do if you think you’ll miss a payment:
1. Review your income and expenses
It may not be easy, but if you can cut down on some monthly expenses, it could free up money that can go toward paying at least the minimum amount due.
Always try to pay in full if you can. If you’re able to do this by the due date, you could avoid paying interest. But if you can’t pay in full, then pay as much of the balance as you can. And always pay at least the minimum amount by the due date whenever possible.
2. Consider automatic payments
If you’re having trouble remembering payment dates, you could try automatic payments. When you set them up, your credit card issuer will take money from your bank account to pay your credit card. Just make sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover payments.
And if you would rather manage payments yourself, you could consider setting up basic calendar reminders on your phone. Card issuers may also have optional email alerts to remind customers that a payment is due.
3. Ask about moving your payment due date
If it feels like all your bills are due the same day each month—or your payday doesn’t come at the best time to cover all your expenses—you might be able to change when your credit card payment is due.
To try this, reach out to your credit card company as soon as possible. Depending on your situation, the credit card company may be able to work with you and move your payment due date.
The adjustment might not begin immediately, but it could offer extra flexibility in the long run.
4. Ask about credit card relief programs
If you think you’ll have trouble making minimum payments for a while, your credit card company might be willing to work with you. Contact them to see what payment relief programs they offer and whether you’re eligible.
Asking how programs work, how long they last and how interest is charged can help you make an informed decision about how to handle payments. Ignoring the problem could make things worse.
5. Contact a reputable credit counselor
Credit counseling organizations are designed to help individuals learn ways to manage their money and expenses. Looking at your full financial picture, a credit counselor might be able to offer personalized advice on budgeting as well as credit and debt management.
But be aware of any potential fees that credit counseling organizations may charge. And be wary of promises that your debts will go away or that your credit will be improved quickly.
Late payments and your credit score
You may also consider monitoring your credit. There are free credit-monitoring tools like CreditWise from Capital One. It’s free for everyone, whether or not you have a Capital One credit card. And using it doesn’t hurt your credit score.
Plus, it has a simulator feature that shows you the impact missed payments could have on your credit scores. It can also alert you if there are meaningful changes on your TransUnion® and Experian® credit reports.
Remember, missing payments can have a negative impact on your credit scores. But don’t be afraid to reach out to your lender directly. There may be resources available to help.