When life gets hectic and your bank account is approaching zero, making a credit card payment on time may not seem like something you can do. While there may be more important things in life than paying your credit card bills on time, not sending in that monthly payment has consequences which can include fees, interest added onto your credit card balance, and damage to your credit score, possibly making the rest of your bills more challenging to keep up with.

Fortunately, many credit card companies have options for you if you can’t pay your credit cards on time, but only if you take action.

Contact Your Credit Card Company

If you know you’re not going to be able to make your card’s minimum payment, it’s best to contact your credit card company and explain the situation. Even better, provide specific details on why you’re unable to pay your bill. Maybe you had a medical emergency or you were laid off from a job. They may be able to work with you on a payment program that helps you keep the card current and pay down the balance in a way that better fits into your financial situation.

Ultimately, it’s a good practice to speak with the credit card customer service team to talk through the issue. And while you may feel apprehensive to do so, know that you shouldn’t be afraid to work with them honestly and openly on the financial issues you’re facing, because they may be able to help. Anything that results in your being able to make your payment on time, and in full, is worth discussing.

Design a Spending Plan

The best way to avoid missing a credit card payment — especially one you can’t afford— is to better plan your spending so that you don’t accrue too much credit card debt in the first place.

Of course, there are emergencies where paying with a credit card — and assuming debt — is a person’s only option. But for many people, excessive credit card debt can be the result of discretionary spending beyond what they can afford to pay back each month.

To help avoid unmanageable debt, it’s helpful to compare how much money you have coming in each month against the sum of your monthly essential costs (housing, transportation, groceries and utilities, for example). Then you want to identify how to meet savings goals like paying off interest-accumulating debt, building an emergency fund and contributing to a retirement plan.

Only after you’ve met your essential costs and savings needs should you really start to spend the excess. And if you decide to spend on a credit card, make sure you have the cash to pay it off right now — don’t just assume money will appear when the bill comes.

Make a Payment if You’ve Missed One

If you do end up missing a credit card payment, all is not lost.

Even though you’re late, you should prioritize making the payment as soon as possible. At best, doing so may prevent the missed payment from appearing on your credit report, saving your credit score from an undesirable dip.

If your credit report is already showing the missed payment, making the payment will convert the status of the payment on your credit report from “unpaid” to “paid.” This shows future lenders that, even though you had a misstep, you ultimately paid what you owed.

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