Late Payments, Credit Scores and Credit Reports

A missed credit card or loan payment can have a seriously detrimental effect on your credit report. The golden rule of using a credit card is to make your payments on time every time, building a respectable payment history, avoiding debt, and keeping your creditor happy.

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But what happens when you fall behind with your monthly payments; what happens when you miss a single loan or credit card payment as a result of a mistake, an oversight or a lack of funds? How will your creditor react, how quickly will the credit reporting agencies find out, and what options do you have for getting back on your feet?

How Late Payments Affect Your Credit Score

A late payment can reduce your credit score significantly and remain on your report for 7 years. It won’t impact your score throughout that time and the longer you leave it, the less of an impact it will have. However, the impact could be significant for individuals with good credit and bad credit.

As an example, if you have a credit score of 750 to 800, which is towards the upper end, a late payment could knock up to 710 points from your score. More importantly, it will remain on your payment history for years to come and reduce your chances of getting everything from a student loan to a credit card and mortgage.

How Soon do Late Payments Show on Credit Reports

You won’t be hit with a derogatory mark as soon as you miss a credit card payment. The credit card issuer may charge you a fee, but by law, they are not allowed to market it as a missed payment until it is 30 days due. And this doesn’t just apply to credit card debt, it’s true for loans as well.

Providing you cover the payment within 30-days, you can avoid a missed payment mark appearing on your credit report. But as soon as that period passes, your lender will inform the major credit bureaus and your score will take a hit.

Some lenders wait even longer before reporting, so you may have as long as 60 days to make that payment. Check with your creditor to see when they start reporting missed payments.

What About Partial Payments?

Many lenders treat a partial payment the same as a missed payment, especially where credit cards are concerned. If you’re struggling to meet your payment obligations, contact your creditor in advance, tell them how desperate your situation is and inform them that you can meet part of the payment.

They may offer you some reprieve, they may not, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. However, it’s worth noting that this will only impact your score if you don’t cover the remaining credit card payment before the 30-day period is up.

To avoid confusion, we should also mention that this only applies to the minimum payment. Some credit card users get confused with the difference between a balance and a minimum payment.

Simply put, the balance is what you clear at the end of the month to avoid accumulating debt and paying interest. If you fail to pay that balance on time, your debt will simply roll over to the next month, after which you will be required to meet a minimum payment on your debt. If, however, you miss that minimum payment, then you’re at risk of your credit report taking a hit.

Reporting agencies don’t record the difference between a rolling balance and a debt. If you spend $3,000 on your card every month but pay it off without fail and without delay, you won’t accumulate interest and technically, you won’t have debt. However, at the end of the month, the reporting agencies will show that you owe $3,000 on that card, just as they would show if you had accumulated a balance of $1,000 a month for three months and let it rollover.

How Long Does a Late Payment Stay?

A late payment will remain on your credit report for 7 years. But herein lies another confusion. Just because it reduces your score by 100 points and remains for 7 years doesn’t mean you will suffer a reduction of 100 points for those 7 years. 

It generally stops having a major impact on your score after a couple of years and while it will still have an impact in that 7-year period, it will be infinitesimal by the time you reach the end.

How Many Late Payments Can You Make Before it Reduces Your Score?

One late credit card payment is all it takes to reduce your score, providing that late payment was delayed by at least 30-days. However, that doesn’t mean you can forget about it once the 30-day period has passed and it definitely doesn’t mean that all the possible damage has been done.

It can and will get worse if you continue to avoid that payment. Your credit report will show how late the payment is in 30-day installments. When it reached 180 days, your account will enter default and may be charged-off, which will reduce your score and your chances of acquiring future credit even more.

Your creditor may sell your account to a collection agency. If this happens, the agency will chase you for repayment, seeking to establish a repayment plan or to request a settlement. Accounts are often in this stage when a consumer goes through debt settlement, as creditors and debt collectors are typically more susceptible to accepting reduced settlements because the debt has all but been written off.

How to Remove Late Payments from Your Credit Report

Although rare, it is possible to remove late payments from your credit report. There are also numerous ways you can reverse late payment fees, and we recommend trying these whenever you can as it will save you a few bucks.

Here are a few options to remove late payments and late payment fees:

Use Your Respectable History

The quickest way to get what you want is to ask for it. If you have a clean credit history and have made your payments on time in the past, you can request that the fee/mark be removed. 

Write them a letter requesting forgiveness, explain that it was an oversight or a temporary issue and point to your record as proof that this will likely not happen again. Creditors may seem like heartless corporations, but real humans make their decisions for them and, like all companies, they have to put their customers first.

Request Automatic Payments

Lenders have been known to remove late payment fees if the debtor signs up for automatic payments. It makes their job easier as it prevents issues in the future and ensures they get what they are owed, so it’s something they actively promote.

They may make this offer themselves, but if not, contact them and ask them if there is anything you can do to remove the late payment. They should bring this up; if they don’t, you can. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse they can do is say no.

Claim Difficulties

If you claim financial difficulties or hardships and make it clear that a late payment will make those difficulties much worse, the lender may be willing to help. Contrary to what you might think, their goal is not to make life difficult for you and to destroy you financially. 

It’s important to see things from their perspective. If you borrow $15,000 and your balance climbs to $20,000 with interest, their main goal is to get that $15,000 back, after which everything else is profit. If you pay $10,000 and start slipping-up, the risk of default will increase. The worse your financial situation becomes, the higher that risk will be. 

If they eventually sell the account to a debt collector, that remaining $10,000 could earn them just a couple of hundred dollars, which means they will lose a substantial sum of money. They are generally willing to help any way they can if doing so will increase their profits.

How to Avoid Late Payments

A late payment can do some serious damage to your payment history so the best thing to do is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. It’s a no-brainer, but this is a common issue and it’s one that countless consumers have every single year. So, keep your credit card and loan payments stable with these tips.

Set Automatic Payments

Occasionally, consumers forget to pay. Life is hectic, they have a lot of responsibilities to juggle, and it’s easy for them to overlook a single payment. If this happens, it should be caught and fixed before the 30-day period ends and the credit bureaus find out. But even then, fees can accumulate, and problems escalate.

To avoid this, set up automatic payments so your minimum payment is paid in full every month. You can do this for all debt, including student loan payments. Just make sure you have the money in your account to meet this minimum charge, otherwise, you could be paying for debt on one account by accumulating it on another.

Set a Budget

A credit card is designed to encourage you to spend money you don’t have. You’re buying things you can’t afford now in the hope or expectation that you will cover them later, only to realize that you’re struggling so much you can’t even cover the minimum payment.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, it’s time to analyze your finances and create a sensible budget. You may feel like you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month and how this compares to your gross income, but the vast majority of consumers seriously underestimate their expenses.

Improve Your Credit by Fixing Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Calculate your debt to income ratio by comparing your total debt (credit card payments, student loans) to your gross income. The higher this is, the harder you need to work, and the less you need to spend on your credit card. 

Your debt to income ratio should be your central focus when seeking to improve your credit score, because while it’s not considered for loan and credit card applications, it does play a role in mortgage applications and is important for calculating affordability.

Conclusion: It’s Not the End of the World

A late payment can strike a disastrous blow to your credit report, but it’s not the end of the world and you do have a few options at your disposal. Not only do you have up to 30 (and sometimes 60) days to make the payment and prevent a derogatory market, but you can file a claim to have it removed in the event that it does appear.

And if none of that works, a little credit repair can get you back on track. Just keep making those payments every month, talk with your lender when you find yourself in trouble, and remember that nothing is unfixable where credit is concerned.