What To Do When You Can't Make Your Minimum Credit Card Payment

Woman reviewing bills
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You've known it for some time now, but the reality of it has just hit you. You can't make your minimum credit card payment this month. Whether an unexpected expense depletes your budget, you're going through a period of financial difficulty, or you're simply overspent, it happens to the best of us at one time or another. How you handle it will impact your credit rating so it's important to proceed with caution.

Don't Just Skip It

When you can't make your monthly credit card payment, the absolute worst thing you can do is just let the bill go unpaid. Skipping your minimum payment will only make it harder to catch up and you'll have to deal with some no-so-pleasant consequences. Your creditor can take certain actions like charging a late fee or reporting the late payment to the credit bureaus, if your payment goes 30 days past due.

One missed payment puts you closer to having your interest rate raised to the highest penalty rate. The credit card issuer can legally apply the penalty rate to your balance if you two payments - that is, you become 60 days past due. Depending on your credit card terms, the penalty rate can apply to any other credit cards you have with that issuer. Worse, the penalty rate may apply to new balances indefinitely.

Avoid falling for the "one dollar minimum payment myth" that suggests you can send something less than your minimum payment to meet your monthly payment obligation.

Contrary to what you may have read or heard, credit card issuers don't withhold late payment penalties just because you made an effort to pay. You must pay at least the minimum payment or make other payments arrangements with your credit card issuer to keep from being assessed a late charge or have your interest rate increased.

Make Some Extra Money

There may be something you can do in the short-term to bring in some additional income. Do you have a skill or service you can provide to others? Try to pick up some freelance work on Upwork or Fiverr. Are there things around the house you can sell? Put them up on a local Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay. You can drive for a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. There are a number of creatives ways to make quick cash selling things or providing services to others. You just have to be willing to think outside of the box and put in the work.

Talk To Your Creditor

If you don't have time to come up with the cash for your minimum payment, call your card issuer and explain the situation. Let them know it's a one-time occurrence and let them know when you'll be able to make your next payment. Some creditors will extend your due date, waive the late fee, and continue reporting a "current" payment status to credit bureaus.

Not every credit card issuer will be sympathetic. If your credit card issuer is unwilling to work with you, try looking for money in other places in your budget. Is there something you can spend less on this month? Perhaps you can borrow from a friend or family member or get a small advance from your employer on your next paycheck.

See How to Get Money to Pay Your Debt for some ways to come up with cash to make your payments.

Be Careful Juggling Your Bills

You might be tempted to put off other bill payments, but there could be consequences there, too. For example, if you don't pay your electricity bill, you face having your services disconnected. 

This is a great time to review your expenses to see if you can reduce or eliminate some bills. Can you cut your cable or get rid of the internet? Choose a less expensive cell phone package? Ask your insurance companies for lower rates? Forgo some personal grooming services for a few months? Consider everything you spend money on and decide whether it's something you can do without, at least temporarily.

How to Make Up a Missed Payment

If the worst happens and you miss your due date, make up the payment as soon as possible.

You can avoid having a late entry added to your credit report by making the payment before it's 30 days past due. Plus, paying before your next due date rolls around keeps you from having to double up on payments in a single month. You'll still be charged a late fee, but your credit score will be safe.

You don't have to call your credit card issuer to make your payment - unless you want to ask for your late fee to be waived. You can make your payment online, by mail, or via phone as you normally would.

If you send your payment after your statement is printed, the payment won't show up on your statement. Check your online account to verify that your payment posted and to check the minimum payment you must make by the next due date.

Where to Get Professional Help

If you find that you're consistently having trouble making your minimum payments, consider credit counseling. A credit counselor can help you figure out how to restructure your budget or negotiate lower monthly payments with your creditor. Your credit card statement will contain a number that you can call if you're experiencing financial trouble. Or, you can reach out to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find a credit counseling agency in your area.