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What Happens If You Stop Paying Your Credit Card Bill?

By Sarah Li Cain · May 26, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Happens If You Stop Paying Your Credit Card Bill?

If you don’t pay your credit card bill, you could face more severe consequences than you might think. Though it will depend on your credit card issuer, you can generally expect to be charged a late fee as well as a penalty interest rate which is higher than the regular purchase APR.

Life happens, and, from time to time, payments are missed, especially if you’re dealing with emergencies such as losing a job or a family crisis. In the event you have skipped a credit card payment, it’s crucial you understand what can happen. That way, you can take steps to reduce the odds of it having a major impact on your financial health.

Here, you’ll learn more about this topic, including:

•   What happens if you don’t pay your credit card bills?

•   What if you miss one credit card payment?

•   What happens if you only can make minimum payments?

•   How can you pay off credit cards?

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Credit Card?

Consequences for missed credit card payments could include being changed late fees and possibly losing your grace period. It may also negatively affect your credit score since issuers report your payment activity to the credit bureaus — in most cases after 30 days.

There may be other consequences depending on how late your payment is and whether it’s your first time missing a payment.

Accruing Interest

When you don’t pay your credit card, interest will accrue and will continue to do so as long as you have a balance on your card. In essence, you are paying more for your initial purchase thanks to that interest.

The longer you go without paying your credit card, the more you risk your rate going up. Your credit card issuer may start imposing a penalty annual percentage rate (APR), which tends to be higher than your regular purchase APR. If this happens, you’ll end up paying more in interest charges. The penalty APR may apply to all subsequent transactions until a certain period of time, such as for six billing cycles.

Collections

Depending on your credit card issuer, your missed payments may go into collections if it goes unpaid for a period of time. You’ll still continue to receive notices about missed payments until this point.

More specifically, if you don’t pay your credit card after 120 to 180 days, the issuer may charge off your account. This means that your credit card issuer wrote off your account as a loss, and the debt is transferred over to a collection agency or a debt buyer who will try to collect the debt.

Once this happens, you now owe the third-party debt buyer or collections agency. Your credit card issuer will also report your account status to the major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. This negative information could stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

It’s hard to tell what third-party debt collectors will do to try and collect your debt. Yes, they may send letters, call, and otherwise attempt to obtain the money due.

Some collections agencies may even try to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires. In rare cases, a court may award a judgment against you. This means the collections agency may have the right to garnish your wages or even place a lien against your house.

If your credit card bill ends up going to collections, take the time to understand what your rights are and seek help resolving the situation. Low- or no-cost debt counseling is available through organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

Bankruptcy

You may find that you have to declare bankruptcy if you still aren’t able to pay your high credit card debt and other financial obligations. This kind of major decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. You will most likely need to see legal counsel to determine whether you’re eligible.

If you do file bankruptcy, an automatic stay can come into effect, which protects you from collection agencies trying to get what you owe them. If successfully declare bankruptcy, then your credit card debt will most likely be discharged, though there may be exceptions. Seek legal counsel to see what your rights and financial obligations are once you’ve filed for bankruptcy.

Making Minimum Payments

A minimum payment is typically found in your credit card statement and outlines the smallest payment you need to make by the due date. Making the minimum payment ensures you are making on-time payments even if you don’t pay off your credit card balance. Any balance you do carry over to the next billing cycle will be charged interest. You can also avoid late fees and any other related charges by making a minimum payment vs. not paying at all.

What Happens if You Miss a Payment

If you can’t pay your credit card for whatever reason, it’s best to contact your issuer right away to minimize the impact. Let them know why you can’t make your payment, such as if you experienced a job loss or simply forgot. For the latter, pay at least the minimum amount owed as soon as you can (ideally before the penalty or higher APR kicks in).

If this is your first time missing a payment but otherwise paid on time, you can try talking to the credit card company to see if they can waive the late fee.

Some credit card issuers may offer financial hardship programs to those who qualify, such as waiving interest rates, extending the due date, or putting a pause on payments (though interest may still accrue) until you’re back on your feet.

15/3 Rule for Paying Off Credit Cards

The 15/3 payment method can help you keep on top of payments and lower your credit utilization — the percentage of the credit limit you’re using on revolving credit accounts — which can impact your score.

Instead of making one payment when you receive our monthly statement, you pay twice — one 15 days before the payment due date, and the other three days beforehand. This plan is useful if you want to help build your credit history and pay on time.

The Takeaway

Missing your credit card payment may not be a massive deal if it just happens once or twice, but it can turn into one if you continue to ignore your bill. While it’s not exactly fun to have to pay a late fee, you may be able to negotiate with the credit card issuer to waive it if you are otherwise a responsible user. Even if not, it’s better than being bumped up to the penalty APR or, worse still, having your account go to collections.

Are you looking for your first or a new credit card? Consider the SoFi Credit Card. With perks like cash back rewards on all purchases, no foreign transaction fees, and Mastercard ID Theft Protection, it may be just the right choice for your personal and financial goals.

The SoFi Credit Card: The smarter way to spend.

FAQ

How long can a credit card go unpaid?

The statute of limitations, or how long a creditor can try to collect the debt owed, varies from state to state, which can be decades or more.

What happens if you never pay your credit card bill?

If you never pay your credit card bill, the unpaid portion will eventually go into collections. You could also be sued for the debt. If the judge sides with the creditor, they can collect the debt by garnishing your wages or putting a lien on your property.

Is it true that after 7 years your credit is clear?

After seven years, most negative remarks on your credit report, such as accounts going to collections, are generally removed.


Photo credit: iStock/MStudioImages
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

This article is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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