Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

Your minimum monthly payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay on your credit card balance. Any less could result in a derogatory mark, any more will clear more of the principal. 

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Your monthly payment is one of the most important aspects of your credit card debt and failure to understand this could seriously impact your credit score and leave marks on your credit report that remain for up to 7 years.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how these payments operate and how you can quickly clear your credit card debt.

How Minimum Payments on a Credit Card are Calculated

The minimum payment is calculated as a percentage of the total balance at the end of the month. This percentage ranges from 2% to 5%, but it has been known to go lower. 

As an example, if you have a $5,000 credit card balance and are required to pay 5% a month, then your monthly payment will be $250. However, this only covers the principal, which is the money that you borrowed. It does not cover the interest, which is where things get a little complicated and expensive.

What Influences Your Minimum Monthly Payment?

The reason credit card interest is so high is because it compounds. This means that if you have an annual percentage rate of 20% and a debt of $20,000, that debt will climb to $24,000, at which point the next billing cycle will commence and this time you’ll be charged 20% on $24,000 and not $20,000.

However, credit card interest is calculated daily, not yearly. To arrive at your daily percentage rate, simply divide your interest rate by 365 (the number of days in a year) and then multiply this by your daily balance.

For example, if we stick with that 20% interest rate, then the daily rate will be 0.00054%. If we multiply this with the daily balance, we get an interest rate of $2.7 for the first day. Multiply this by 30, for the total days in a billing cycle, and it’s $81. That’s your total interest for the first month.

So, when we calculate the 2% minimum monthly payment, we’re calculating it against $5,081, not $5,000, which means we get a total of $101.62, reducing the balance to just $479.38.

In other words, you pay over $100, but reduce the balance by a little over $20 when you make that monthly payment. If penalty fees and interest rates are added to that, it will reduce in even smaller increments.

Pros and Cons of Only Paying the Minimum Payment on your Credit Card

As discussed above, it’s imperative that you make the minimum payment, avoiding any late payment charges or credit score reductions. However, if you only make those minimum payments every month then it will take a long time to clear your balance and you may struggle to keep your head above water.

The Benefits of Paying More Than the Minimum

Many borrowers struggle to pay more than the minimum not because they don’t have the money, but because they fail to see the benefits. They focus on the short-term and not the long-term, seeing an extra $100 payment as a lost $100 in the present, as opposed to a saved $500 in the future.

However, if you can get over this mindset and start paying more than the minimum, you will do your future self a huge favor, helping with all of the following:

Shorten the Term and Lessen the Interest

Every extra dollar that you add to your minimum payment can help you get out of debt quicker than if you simply stick with the minimum. This is true for all debts—a higher monthly payment means that more money goes towards the principal, which means there is less interest to compound.

Credit card debt is like a snowball gathering momentum as it rolls, and this is exacerbated every time you miss a payment and are hit with penalty fees. By paying more than the minimum, you’re taking a giant chunk out of that snowball and slowing its progression.

You’ll Improve Your Credit Utilization

Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most important parts of your credit report, counting for 30% of your total. This ratio takes your total available credit (such as a credit limit on a credit card) and then compares it to total debt (such as the balance on that credit card). The higher the number, the more of your credit has been used and the more your credit score will suffer.

Every time you pay more of your credit card balance, you’re reducing this score and significantly boosting your credit score.

Avoid Maxing Out Your Balance

Not only will a maxed-out credit card do some serious damage to your credit utilization score, but it can also have a direct impact on your credit score on the whole. Lenders don’t want to see it and credit bureaus will punish you for it. If you’re still using the card and only paying the minimum, you may be stuck in a cycle of persistent debt, but by paying more and using it less, you can prevent that.

You May Get a Better Credit Limit

Credit card issuers monitor their customer’s activities very closely. If they clear their balances every month without issue, they are more inclined to increase their credit limit, offer them rewards, and generally provide them with good opportunities. If they are accumulating large amounts of credit card debt and only meeting their minimum payments, they’ll be less inclined to do any of those things.

It always helps to get on a creditor’s good side, because you never know when you will need that improve credit limit or access to that generous rewards scheme.

What Happens if you Only Make the Minimum Payment?

If you only pay the minimum, the debt will take a long time to clear and you’ll repay huge sums of interest in that time. If we go back to the previous example and assume an APR of 20%, a balance of $5,000 and a minimum payment of 2%, you will repay over 400% in interest alone and it will take you decades to repay the debt.

Thankfully, very few credit card providers will actually let you pay such a small amount on such a substantial debt. But even if we increase the minimum payment to 5%, it still looks abysmal for the borrower. It would take them about 9 years to pay the balance, requiring $250 a month and paying close to $2,500 in interest.

Although it’s more realistic, this is still a poor option, especially when you consider the card will still be active and you may still be using it, which means that every time you make a repayment, you’re adding more debt and offsetting all your hard work.

Your credit score will not suffer if you only make the minimum payment. Providing you make it on time then you will build a respectable payment history, a stable credit report, and a credit score that is sure to impress lenders. However, it won’t look great for your finances as you’re giving yourself an expensive liability that will cripple your debt-to-income ratio and your credit utilization ratio for years to come.

Are There Any Advantages to Just Paying the Minimum?

The only advantage to paying just the minimum is that you will have more money in your pocket at the end of the month, which will allow you to make additional investments and purchases that would otherwise not be available to you. However, this is a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at it, because while you will have more cash in the long-term, it comes at the expense of many additional risks and obligations, not to mention thousands of dollars’ worth of additional interest paid over the term.

What Happens if you Can’t Pay the Minimum Payment?

If there is a late payment or a missed payment, your creditor may charge you a penalty fee or a penalty rate. If your payment is due for more than 30-days they may also report you to the credit bureaus, at which point a derogatory mark will appear on your credit report and your credit score will drop.

This can happen even with a single missed payment, which is why you should never simply skip a payment on the basis that you’ll just double-up next time around.

Instead, contact your creditor, explain your situation, and see if there is anything they can do to help you. They may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and, in most cases, they will offer you some kind of reprieve. After all, they want their money, and if they can increase their chances of getting paid by providing you with some leeway, they’ll often be more than happy to do it.

Some people believe that you can simply pay a few dollars and it will count as a minimum payment and not show on your credit report. This is a myth. Technically, any payment that doesn’t meet the full minimum requirement can be classed as a late payment and can lead to fees and derogatory marks.

Resources to Lower Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

It’s important to keep a close eye on your credit card statement and activity at all times. Monitor your spending, making sure it doesn’t go overboard, and if you find yourself struggling to make payments at any time, checkout the following resources and options to get the help you need:

  • Credit Counselors: Speak with a trained expert who has helped many individuals in a similar position. They will discuss your finances and your debts and will help you to find a solution.
  • Debt Management: A debt management plan can help when you’re struggling to meet your debt obligations and have a huge debt-to-income ratio. They will provide assistance and help you swap multiple debts for a single consolidation loan.
  • Debt Settlement: An option that works best for individuals with multiple debts and missed payments. It’s one of the cheapest ways to clear personal loan and credit card debt, as well as other forms of unsecured debt.
  • Debt Consolidation: Another consolidation loan option, this time with a long term, ensuring that you pay less per month but more over the term. This is a good option if you’re stuck in a tricky spot right now and need to reduce your outgoings.

In all the above cases, you can use the NMLS Consumer Access site to find a legitimate and reputable company or professional working within the financial sector. You can also use resources like the Better Business Bureau as well as the many guides, reviews, and help files right here on the Pocket Your Dollars website.

How to Reduce the Balance on a Credit Card Debt

One of the best ways to reduce your balance is to initiate a balance transfer. As the name suggests, this entails moving your balance from one card to another. Balance transfer cards entice you by offering a 0% APR on all transfers and this lasts for up to 18% with the best providers. 

In that time, you won’t pay any interest on your balance, which means all your monthly payment will go towards the principal and you can reduce your debt in huge leaps as opposed to small steps.

These cards are not without their issues, however. You will need a good credit score to get a card that has a good APR and balance transfer offer. If you don’t, and you fail to clear the balance during that introductory period, you may be paying more interest than you were before.

In most cases, though, these cards will be just what you need to ease the burden of mounting credit card debts and get back into the black. Take a look at our guide to the best balance transfer cards to learn more and discover how you can move your current balance to a card that has more preferable terms, in the short-term at least.

The Bottom Line: Clear that Balance

A minimum payment is the least amount you need to commit to a credit card balance. If credit card debt was a house party, the minimum payment would be the equivalent of showing up, saying your introductions, and then hiding in the corner for the rest of the night. If you really want to make an impact, you need to be proactive.

It doesn’t have to be twice or thrice the size of your minimum payment. It doesn’t have to be a consistent sum that you pay every month, but it does have to be something. Don’t worry if it’s only 1% or 2% of the balance, because every additional payment helps. Just pay whatever you can afford, whenever you can afford it. A small amount of money today can save you a huge sum of money in the future.