From our pals at Credit.com:
Many of us have thought, “What would happen if I just pretended this credit card bill didn’t exist? Hmmm…”
However, failing to pay your credit card bill can have a slew of consequences, and they only get nastier as time goes on. In addition to the almost certain stress you’ll experience the longer your debt goes unpaid, avoiding your credit card bill is like taking a sledgehammer to your credit standing. There will be a lot of damage to undo. The terms of every credit card are different, but in general, the experience would typically go something like this.
Once your bill’s due date has passed, you’ll incur late fees. Penalties can add up quickly, and considering you couldn’t afford the bill in the first place, it’s unfortunate to have to owe even more. Each time you miss a due date, you’ll probably see another fee.
If you go an entire billing cycle without making a payment, you’ll be considered 30 days past due, which your issuer will report to the credit bureaus. Even one late payment can cause a significant drop in your credit score, and the more payments you miss, the worse your score will get. If you want to see what that could mean for you, you can check your credit scores for free with Credit.com and use one of the tools to show you how much your score could drop after a late payment. Watching your score hypothetically plunge is scary enough to make you avoid it in real life.
After another billing cycle, you’ll be 60 days past due. You’re probably going to start getting frequent phone calls from your creditor, if you haven’t already. It’ll get more intense once you hit 90 days past due, and your available credit will get cut off at some point. Then there’s the interest you’ve incurred on your original debt by now; you will definitely owe more than when you first missed the payment.
If you continue to avoid paying, the credit card company will write your debt off as a loss, which is called a charge-off. That’s a bad thing to have on your credit report, because it shows you failed to pay a debt, and it could be challenging to obtain more credit for awhile. A charge-off is hardly the end of the saga, however, because you could receive a 1099-C from the IRS for canceled debt, meaning you’ll be expected to pay taxes on that debt.
After charging off your debt, a credit card company may sell it to a debt collector for cents on the dollar, in an attempt to recoup some of its losses. You’ll have a collections account on your credit report (another major negative), and you’ll have to deal with the stress of having collectors contact you and try to get you to pay. You can request they stop reaching out to you (here’s how to do that), and you can try to settle the debt for less than it’s worth, just to get it over with.
On the other hand, the creditor may decide to take legal action to try and get you to pay your credit card bill. If you have a judgment filed against you, that’s two bad things: First, you have to pay, and second, a judgment is yet another negative item on your credit report.
This is why running away from credit card debt isn’t the answer. It’ll find you. If you have trouble paying, it can help to be proactive: Reach out to your creditor to work out a solution to the problem (like a payment plan, for example), and hopefully you can avoid a credit disaster.
Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record.