What to do if you can’t pay your credit card bill – Forbes Advisor

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Ideally, you’ll pay your credit card bill in full and on time each month. This is the best way to avoid accumulating interest and fees. Life doesn’t always turn out that way, though. Emergencies arise and unforeseen expenses multiply. Sometimes things get busy and we just forget. If you can’t pay your card, don’t panic. Like everything in life, this too can be managed before it’s the worst case scenario.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you have more options if you act before the due date. The sooner you act, the more likely you are to manage it without major complications or penalties. Tackle things head-on instead of running away. Here are our tips for dealing with a credit card payment that you can’t make, whether you know it in advance or not.

Find the best credit cards for 2022

No credit card is the best option for every family, every purchase or every budget. We have selected the best credit cards so as to be the most useful for the greatest number of readers.

What to do before your credit card is due

Check your personal budget

Although the optimal scenario pays your bill in full, an acceptable scenario hits the minimum payment. Most credit cards require payment of 1% to 3% of your total balance, often with a flat minimum like $25 for small bills. On a balance of $1,000, a minimum payment of 3% would be a more manageable amount of $30.

Paying 3% may not sound attractive, but it actually makes all the difference. You’ll still have to pay interest on your outstanding balance, but you’ll also avoid paying late fees. It can also help you avoid an APR penalty, which is when the card issuer raises your interest rate to a higher percentage. Making minimum payments also helps you avoid damaging your credit score: payment history is an important part of the calculations.

Since you typically have about three weeks between the close of your credit card statement and the bill’s due date, use this grace period to research ways to gather the minimum payment. Maybe you can temporarily cut expenses in some part of your life or take extra hours at work. Selling things you don’t use anyway or doing odd jobs for a neighbor are other creative ways to make ends meet.

Consider applying for a 0% APR credit card

If one-time expenses arise and you need more time to pay them off, a credit card with a 0% introductory APR could help. These cards don’t accrue interest for a set period of time, often for 12 months or more, giving you time to cut spending.

Cards with 0% APR can come in two different forms, some offering an interest-free period for new purchases while others focus on balance transfers. When you do a balance transfer, you’re essentially paying off a credit card with a new one. Most cards have a fee for this – think 3-5% – but it could save you a year of 20% interest charges.

It’s important to remember that interest will start accumulating at the end of your 0% APR period if you haven’t paid off the balance yet, so you should always make regular payments. Be sure to add these payments to your budget instead of assuming you’ll find out in the future and repeat the cycle.

If your credit is already in bad shape, approving a new credit card is probably not an option. However, if you’ve recently been through a rough patch and your credit score is otherwise respectable, choosing one of the best 0% APR credit cards could be a good way to get you back on track.

Call your card issuer

You might feel embarrassed, but try not to – calling your card issuer is another important option available to you. If you are used to making payments on time and expect your personal situation to improve soon, it may be enough to call and ask for a one-time late fee waiver. For small, one-time requests, there are many customer service representatives who are qualified to assist you.

On the other hand, if you expect ongoing challenges, you may need to apply to join a potential difficulty program instead. With a credit card assistance program, you’ll work with the card issuer to lower your interest rate or waive fees on an ongoing basis until you get back on your feet. It can help you tremendously, but not without compromise. In exchange for assistance, they can reduce your credit limit or freeze your account entirely from new charges.

Another potential source of help is requesting to change your due date on future billing cycles. Some card issuers will allow you to select your preferred due date online while others require a quick call. This probably won’t help you for this particular billing cycle, but can set you up for success in the future. For example, if you normally get paid on the 15th of each month, you might prefer a due date of the 16th or 17th instead of the 14th.

What to do if you miss a payment on your credit card

Call your card issuer

Yes, calling your card issuer can help even if you have already missed your payment. It may not be too late to have the charge waived or to ask them to delay reporting your missed payment to the credit bureaus as a one-time courtesy. By calling, you are also showing your willingness to take responsibility for your debt. This can lead to additional leniency when working out a payment plan down the line.

Banks prefer to settle something directly instead of sending your account to a collection agency. It’s also better for you and for saving your credit score, so be sure to stay in communication with your card issuer no matter what.

Make a payment as soon as possible

Making a payment after the due date won’t help you avoid late fees, but it does help. Every dollar you pay reduces your interest charges. If you are able to pay more than the minimum payment, this will have an even greater impact: as required by law, payments are always applied to balances with the highest interest rate first, such as those associated with an APR penalty. It’s also important because many cards accrue interest daily.

Making payments of any size also helps you avoid credit card chargebacks and can keep negotiations with your card issuer on the table.

Create a debt management plan

The sooner you pay off your credit card balance, the easier it will be. Since credit card interest rates are high, balances can quickly spiral out of control, making it even more difficult to pay off in full.

Re-evaluating your budget and using payment calculators can help you figure out how long it will take to pay off debt based on what you can reasonably afford on a regular basis. You may need to make major lifestyle changes or work with a credit counselor to repay the charges until you get back on your feet. Other times, slow, steady progress will suffice.

Until then, you’ll want to avoid making new purchases with your credit card: it just adds fuel to the fire. Shopping with cash or a debit card means you won’t accidentally spend and end up in that situation again.

Find the best credit cards for 2022

No credit card is the best option for every family, every purchase or every budget. We have selected the best credit cards so as to be the most useful for the greatest number of readers.


Missing a payment on your credit card is something to avoid, but you can bounce back without ruining your credit or your budget as long as you deal with it as soon as possible. Many card issuers are willing to negotiate and customize a payment plan that will work for you. You might even be able to avoid the situation altogether by considering options before there is a real problem. Although mistakes happen, it’s the recovery that counts.

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