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A debt payment made one day late may cost you a penalty fee, but it typically won't appear on your credit reports or affect your credit scores. Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus and added to your credit reports once they reach the 30-day-late mark.
A One-Day-Late Payment Won't Show on Your Credit Report
A payment made one day late—or even a few days late—won't result in the payment being reported as late. And since credit scores are based on credit report contents, a late payment that isn't reported won't affect your scores.
Creditors typically notify one or more of the three national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—only if a payment falls 30 days or more past due. When this occurs, a delinquency is noted on your credit report and your credit scores may be negatively affected.
The number of points a missed payment will dock your score can vary, depending on factors such as how high your score was before the late payment appeared and what other negative entries you may have on your credit reports.
When Are Late Payments Reported to the Credit Bureaus?
Credit card issuers, mortgage servicers and other creditors typically report a late payment to the national credit bureaus only if a bill has gone unpaid for a full billing cycle, which is usually about 30 days. But that doesn't mean missing your payment's due date is always consequence-free.
Most lenders impose late fees if you miss your payment deadline. For instance, federal law permits credit card companies to charge up to $41 per late payment, which is defined legally as a payment that isn't received on its due date by 5 p.m. in the lender's time zone.
An even more severe penalty, in the form of an interest rate hike, could be in store if you go 60 days or more without making a scheduled payment. In that event, your credit card issuer has the right to raise your interest rate—and apply it to any existing balance as well as new charges going forward. An interest rate hike can add to your debt significantly, especially if you're currently taking advantage of a zero-interest balance transfer offer.
What to Do if You've Missed a Payment
If you're a little late on a debt payment, acting quickly can contain the damage. If it's your first offense, you might even be able to avoid being penalized at all. Follow these steps for best results, and be sure to avoid missing a payment again in the future.
1. Pay the Bill Right Away
If your payment deadline has slipped by you, call your creditor or go online to make a payment immediately. Mailing a check after you've missed a payment deadline could put you at risk of going 30 days late and incurring a delinquency. Besides, you want to be sure your payment posts as quickly as possible to tee up the next step in the process.
2. Ask the Creditor for a Break
Once your payment is confirmed, contact your creditor's customer service line and ask if they can waive the late payment fee. Many lenders will comply, especially if you have a history of on-time payments and you're only a few days late. Make it a goal to never miss a due date again—the following steps will help in that effort.
3. Set Up Payment Alerts
Many creditors give you the option of receiving email or text message reminders to pay your bill. Take advantage of these services and set up your own reminders on a digital or physical calendar as well. Make sure you allow enough lead time for your payment method to clear, allowing for postal delays or electronic transfer times. Figure out a system that works for you and stick to it to avoid missed payments and fees in the future.
4. Sign Up for Automatic Bill Pay
To take technology a step beyond payment reminders, consider signing up for automated monthly payments. Many creditors allow you to supply your bank account information through their online dashboard or smartphone app.
On installment loan accounts such as mortgages, student loans or auto loans, autopay withdraws your fixed payment each month. With credit cards, you're typically given the option of automatically withdrawing your minimum required payment or the balance on your most recent statement. If you're concerned about being able to cover your statement balance each month, automatically making your minimum payment will prevent late payments, but you may want to make a second payment manually to avoid accruing interest charges.
If a particular creditor doesn't have an autopay option, your bank or credit union probably offers a bill-pay service that can issue payments on the day of the month you request. If, for example, your payment is due on the 15th, you can have the amount you owe withdrawn from your checking account and transferred electronically on the 11th.
This is great for fixed-payment loans but trickier for credit cards: If you set the withdrawal amount too low, you risk not covering your minimum payment. If you set the payment amount too high (or go a month without any balance on the card), you'll end up overpaying. The card issuer won't mind that (you'll earn a credit on your account), but you can probably think of better ways to use your money.
If you use autopay, take care that you always have sufficient funds to cover the payments, and you may find it a great help in preventing late payments.
The Bottom Line
Take control of your bill-paying habits to avoid inconsistent payments that can bring hefty fees or, worse, missed payments that hurt your credit scores. Get your FICO® Score☉ for free from Experian to see where your credit stands today, and maintain steady payments to promote continuous score increases.