How One Late Payment Can Affect Your Credit

By Melanie Lockert

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You’re going about your day, going through the mail and then it hits you. “Oh crap! I forgot to pay my credit card bill.”

Missing a payment can happen to the best of us. But it’s not just a minor gaffe, it may actually affect your credit. How much? Well, it depends.

What counts as a late payment? 

Here’s the good news. If you are only a few days late—and you’ve never had a late payment before—you may be able to get out unscathed.

“It all depends on how late it is. A payment that’s less than 30 days late will rarely have an effect on your credit,” says Jason Steele, credit card expert and founder of CardCon (@CardConExpo).

But let’s say you’re out of town or busy with life stuff and end up missing a payment for more than 30 days. What then?

“After 30 days the payment is likely to be reported late and will begin to negatively affect your credit,” says Steele.

Steele notes that it only gets worse if you hit the 60 or 90-day mark. So if your payment is more than 30 days late, it could impact your credit score.

If that’s the case, the next step is to get current on your payments as soon as possible. Even then, it doesn’t mean the damage is wiped away.

“Once you’ve become current on your payments, the late payment will remain on your credit history,” explains Steele.

What will a late payment do to your credit score? 

All late payments are not created equal. Your credit history may be a factor in how much the late payment affects your score.

“The effects of one late credit card payment from a person with a “thin” credit file trying to establish credit may be completely different than a person who’s more credit active with a longer credit history,” says Nancy Bistritz-Balkan, Director of Public Relations & Communications at Equifax (@Equifax), a major credit bureau.

So if you have a strong credit score and a good credit history, one late payment may not do that much damage. However, if you’re just starting out on your credit journey or are trying to repair your credit, the impact may be worse.

Why your payments are so important

You might not think missing a payment here or there is really a big deal. In reality? Your payment history is the largest contributing factor when it comes to your credit score. That’s right. Your payment history equals 35 percent of your credit score .

“Whether you’ve been able to make on-time payments through the course of your credit history is a factor lenders and creditors consider during the selection process,” explains Bistritz-Balkan. “This type of information helps lenders and creditors understand: If they lend you money, extend you credit, or give you goods and services, will you pay them back?”

So your payment history is a pretty big deal when it comes to your credit. If you miss one credit card payment—and 30 days or more pass—your credit score could drop. On top of that, you might be hit with late fees.

Avoid missed payments and protect your credit! 

If you miss a payment, you’re not a bad person. Life happens. There are a lot of things vying for your attention between your job, your family, relationships, etc. It’s hard to keep track of it all.

However, it’s important to stay on top of your payments so you can keep your credit in good shape. To avoid missed payments, you can consider signing up for auto pay, which automatically deducts your payment from your checking account. Of course, you want to make sure you have enough in your account, or you might trade late fees for overdraft fees.

You can typically choose to pay the full balance or only the minimum—if you pay at least the minimum, you can avoid fees or missing a payment (though it’s best to pay in full if you can).

If you don’t want to sign up for autopay, see if your credit card issuer allows you to set reminders.

You can also set reminders in your online calendar and set a deadline a few days before your actual due date.

Bottom line:

If you miss one credit card payment, it may not affect your credit that much if you catch the mistake quickly. However, if you let it go 30 days or longer there could be consequences.

No one wants to pay late fees or deal with a drop in their credit score. To avoid these issues, always pay the minimum and set reminders so you can stay on track with your payments.

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About the Author
Melanie Lockert is the personality behind the award-­winning blog and book, Dear Debt, where she chronicled her journey out of $81,000 in student loan debt. As the co-founder of Lola Retreat, she is passionate about empowering women to rock their money. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles and is dreaming of her next adventure.