You know what sucks?
The pang in your stomach the moment you realize you forgot to do something really, really important.
That queasy sensation replicated only from finding the biggest, scariest roller coaster around, cresting the top of the hill, and having the floor completely drop out from underneath you. Freefall, right into the terrifying realization which can only mean one thing:
I had this realization last month, right in the middle of an otherwise worry free vacation.
I woke up in my New Orleans hotel after a fantastic night filled with good food and better beer. While prepping my usual breakfast tea, I checked the time on my phone. Not for any particular reason – I was on vacation, free from a schedule, and my plans wouldn’t change whether the clock said 6 AM or 6 PM.
Nonetheless, out of habit I flipped on my lock screen and checked the time. 9:10 AM, April 10th.
BAM. It hit me.
April 10th is one day after April 9th. And April 9th is the due date for every credit card I’ve ever owned.
Although I couldn’t be sure about every moment from the previous night, one thing was absolutely, positively certain – at no point during my sampling of Cajun food or Cajun drink did I ever stop for the responsible gesture of a timely credit card payment.
I logged into my accounts. There they were, two late credit payments staring me in the face.
Of course, both of my friendly credit card companies wasted no time slapping two nice, bold “LATE PAYMENT FEES” of $25 each, coupled with $9.34 of ”
“INTEREST CHARGED ON PURCHASES.”
Do they have to yell at me with the caps lock on?
Total cost for less than 24 hours of forgetfulness? $59.34.
Or, put another way, dinner and wine at a fancier place than the girlfriend and I have eaten at in months. Or that pair of nice dress slacks I’ve been putting off buying for over a year. Or even just multiple hours of my precious time on earth.
What to do if you miss a credit card payment
Unfortunately, during my moment of crises, I couldn’t recall any helpful blog posts on this subject. In order to spare you a similar fate, here’s what to do if you miss a credit card payment and find yourself slapped with a late fee.
1) Don’t panic.
If you’re like me and sufficiently mistrusting of credit card companies, your late payment will have you in complete full blown panic mode.
I immediately imagined my credit score plummeting. Hell, my account was probably already handed over to collections. I might as well say goodbye to ever getting approved for a mortgage. And a rental property is probably an impossible pipe dream…
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fortunately, that’s all a bunch of nonsense. Here are the facts:
99% of the time, late payments are not reported to the credit bureaus until they become at least 30 days past due. Collections aren’t usually notified until the credit card company charges off the account, all the way at 180 days past due.
If you’re an otherwise timely payer, and you just had a simple slip of the mind thanks to a little too much fun in New Orleans, a couple days past due isn’t even on anyone’s radar yet.
2) Immediately pay the statement balance in full.
Even though your credit score is probably unaffected, you still want to log in* and immediately pay the full statement balance in full. This will help you execute the next steps of our plan.
*If you are nearing 30 days past due, don’t risk online banking, which often takes several days to clear. Call the card company to arrange faster payment.
3) Clear your head, and call your credit card company.
Since we’re all about actionable advice around here, here’s the exact script you can use:
Hi there, I was calling because I was [traveling/working late/insert believable excuse here] and my payment due date completely slipped my mind. Once I remembered, I immediately paid the entire statement balance in full. As you can see, I’ve been a longtime customer with a history of timely payment, so I was hoping to get the late fee reversed.”
It doesn’t actually matter if you’ve been a longtime customer nor how timely your payment history is. In fact, a survey from CreditCards.com showed that of cardholders who asked, 9 out of 10 were successful in reversing their late fee.
With a success rate like that, you’d think every cardholder would be all over this strategy. Nope. The same survey found only about 1 in 5 cardholders have ever made this request.
(The survey also found similar success rates for people asking for a lower interest rate)
Lesson learned: when in doubt, ask. The worst they can say is no.
4) If the credit card company doesn’t reverse your late fee…
In the 1 in 10 chance they do say no, well, sorry about your bad luck. But don’t give up just yet.
Surveys show that 93% of people in high income households had their late fees removed, compared to 84% of those earning less than $75,000. In other words, now would be a good time to mention any recent raises at work, or that you recently picked up a side hustle. Especially if your original application is outdated.
Worst case scenario, try calling again in a couple of days. You may have better luck with a different customer service rep.
Why It Works
Simply put: credit card companies make a TON of money by having you as a customer. Even if you never pay a cent of interest and avoid all fees, credit card companies still earn somewhere between 1-4% of ALL your purchases.
That’s a lot of money, which means the companies have a huge incentive to retain you as a customer.
If Chase is willing to pay you $2,000 to sign up for their card, you better believe they won’t hesitate to refund a $25 late fee.
- An unnamed Chase customer service rep told CreditCards.com he was instructed to forgive one late fee every six months, no questions asked.
- A Capital One rep also admitted to removing late fees once or twice a year, even if the caller didn’t provide a reason.
- Discover openly offers every cardmember forgiveness on their first late payment.
As far as my experience? I called Chase and Bank of America, using the earlier script.
Chase, who I only hold two credit cards with, happily overturned the late fee and interest. Bank of America, who I’ve been banking with for decades and currently hold over $50,000 in assets with, waived the $25 late fee but remained adamant about their $1.84 of interest.
All in all, $59.34 saved… check that, $57.50 (thanks for the customer appreciation, Bank of America) for 6 minutes of phone calls, plus one wild night in New Orleans.
Readers, have you ever had success overturning a late fee?