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There are several acceptable ways to pay your credit card bill. However, it may not always be obvious which payment method is the best one for you. You can generally pay a credit card bill online, by phone, by mail or, in some cases, in person. Here's a rundown of the choices before you and how to choose the method that ensures your credit card bills get paid on time every time
Most banks or credit unions offer online bill pay, and it can save time as well as the cost of postage. You may go through an app or automate the process through your online account. You can make one-time payments for all of your bills individually, but auto payments are a more convenient option. With many banking apps, you can set up recurring monthly payments for the minimum balance owed—or a custom amount—or have your bill automatically paid in full every month.
Many card issuers offer credit card autopay, which automatically debits your account according to how you've set up the recurring payments. Autopay works slightly differently than online bill pay, but the principles are the same. You do not have to automate payments to pay online, but doing so may ensure you don't accidentally overlook a payment. However, it could also potentially result in overdrafting your account.
- If you choose an automatic payment option, it ensures your bill is paid on time as long as there's cash in the appropriate account.
- You save on postage.
- It may be more secure than postal mail.
- It saves time—no writing checks or calling your creditor.
- It's convenient.
- Your automatic payment could cause you to overdraft your account.
- A scheduled minimum payment may not stop even if a payment is not due.
- Setting it up requires some time investment.
Paying by Phone
If you call the customer service number on the back of your credit card, most have a menu that includes checking your current balance and statement balance, as well as an option to pay by phone. Your current balance is any unpaid balance, including for purchases since your last statement. Your statement balance is the one on your most recent statement. Also on the menu will be an option to pay by phone.
- If the bill is due within the next 24 hours, paying by phone won't typically cost you a rush fee.
- You save time and postage.
- It's not automatic—if a bill slips your mind, you risk being late.
- You have to call credit card companies individually, and key in your credit card numbers each time you pay.
Paying by Mail
The traditional way to pay a creditor is to wait until the credit card company sends you a statement and mail in your payment using the included form. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, your bill must be paid by 5 p.m. on the due date, unless it falls on a weekend or holiday, in which case it's due the next day. If you pay by mail, it's a good idea to pay early to leave time for possible delays in delivery or processing.
Since the advent of more technologically advanced payment methods, however, it's hard to recommend paying by mail. The risk of check theft and fraud is growing, and delays in delivery could result in a late payment. In addition, it costs more in both postage and time than the other methods. If you choose to pay by mail, the U.S. Postal Service recommends depositing your payment in a post office permanent collection box, a post office or business mail collection for better security.
Paying in Person
You may be able to pay your bill in person if you have a store credit card or if you go to a branch of the bank that issued your card.
- It can be convenient if you are there regularly.
- It saves on postage and has minimal risk of theft.
- It can work well for people who do not have banks but do have debit cards.
- Many issuing banks don't have brick-and-mortar locations, so they do not offer this service.
- It is less convenient than paying from home.
- It may be more difficult to have yourself on a schedule of visits that works with your billing cycle.
Paying early is never a mistake, but cutting it close can be. Payments that are more than 30 days past due get reported to credit bureaus, and late payments can hurt your credit score. But being even a day late paying your bill can result in fees and a penalty interest rate. If you are close to the due date, paying online, by phone or in person can offer the assurance that your payment arrived on time.
The best way to use a credit card is to pay your bill in full every billing cycle. You have a grace period between the last day of the billing cycle and the bill's due date, and if you pay in full during this time, you won't pay interest—you're basically using your credit card for convenience and perhaps earning rewards in the process.
Online or through apps may be the most secure way to pay your credit card bill. Even then, your own attention to cyber hygiene makes a difference. If you use an app, also be sure you password-protect the device you use and that you do not use public Wi-Fi. Don't click on emails or texts; instead type in addresses yourself. If you pay by phone, take notice of your surroundings. Postal mail is not the safest way to pay.
The Bottom Line
Credit cards are set up to accept payments in a variety of ways. The best one for you is the one you feel most comfortable with—and are most likely to consistently use. You can set up calendar reminders or sign up for alerts to remind you when the due date is approaching or use autopay.
No matter how you pay your credit cards, it's smart to choose cards that fit your lifestyle, goals and credit profile best. Experian CreditMatch™ is a free service that can help you find cards that align with your goals and credit score range.