What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Credit Card Bill?

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.

Late Fees

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.

Delinquency

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.

Charge-Off

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.

Collections

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.

Judgment

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.

 

Related Links:

I Want to Get My Credit Score for Free

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Does Checking My Credit Score Hurt My Credit?

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5 Comments / Post A Comment

sharongracepjs (#5,107)

I wish I had this article to read when I moved into my first apartment at 22, shiny credit card in hand. I signed up for it at a Subway in exchange for a free footlong, used it to buy a senior spring break trip to France, and had absolutely no idea how to handle it responsibly.
A few months into my independent adult existence, I accidentally went over the credit limit by $300 (expecting in a vague utopian way that I would be cut off when I got to it). The company promptly wanted the full overage plus interest, which was unthinkable on my bookstore salary. I stopped paying even the minimum, always planning to catch up on it “someday” and entirely ignoring it in the present. The few times early on that I tried to discuss options with the issuer, they were rude, unhelpful, pushy, and judgy.
The fees, interest skyrocketed exactly as described above, and when I finally sat down to deal with it as 28-year-old, I owed almost $7,000. Plus six years of fear, anxiety, and shame whenever I thought about my finances, constant harassment via phone and mail from the various debt collectors that had been passing the debt around, and a credit score so low it could barely be seen by the naked eye.
I’m proud to say that when I finally decided to deal with it, after extensive research here and at other helpful forums, I boldly negotiated with the debt collector to set up a payment plan for an amount nearly equal to what I actually spent on the card. And even prouder to say I stuck to the monthly payment even during a long, sad winter of unemployment. And proudest of all to now be 30 years old and debt-free! I wish I had tackled it earlier, but even more so I wish I had never gotten into that mess in the first place. What could I have acomplished with my Roaring 20s if I had a strong credit score and a credit card safety net to leap with? Not to mention what I could have accomplished if I didn’t feel like a subpar human being whenever I thought about my finances.

TL;DR version: this article is right. Listen to it or it will cost you more than money.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@sharongracepjs: I’m just a rando on the internet, but I’m really proud of you for dealing with the issue and clawing your way to being debt free!

ladybug (#2,583)

Perhaps a stupid question, but how do you go about setting up the payment plan? Do you call and explain you can’t necessarily make the minimum payment and say what you can pay? And in the case of having multiple cards in this situation, you call all of them and hope for the best that they’ll negotiate with you? The cards haven’t been used for quite some time to avoid running up more debt, but the paying down has been largely ignored. Don’t know all the specifics because asking for a loved one, but want to get this al figured out. Thanks! And good for you!

sharongracepjs (#5,107)

@ladybug If you’re dealing with the original credit card company, I’m not sure how it would work – mine was never interested in working with me. But once it goes to a third-party collections agency, they’re very open to negotiation. They bought your debt for pennies on the dollar, so pretty much anything they get out of you is a profit for them, as I understand it.
The few times I would answer the phone and talk to the various collectors, they usually led with an advantageous option hoping that I would leap at the chance to pay less.”Your total amount owed is $7K, but if you can pay us $3000 right now, we’ll settle it for that.” Or some such. i would say, “No I can’t pay that” and they would offer that I could pay it in two parts, as long as I set up both payments right then.
When I decided it was time to actually deal with it, I finally just talked to the debt collector when they called (who happened to be very nice, atypically). I said very frankly, “I’d like to start taking care of this but I’m on a very tight budget” and we went from there, discussing back and forth how much I could pay right then and how much I could pay monthly. If I remember correctly, we settled on a one-time payment of $600 (which I had 30 days to pay) and then ten monthly payments of $200. I think they offered me fewer payments if I paid more upfront, or lower monthly payments for longer. They were very open to what would work for me.
And at one point toward the end of my payment plan, I had an income lapse between my unemployment benefits ending and getting my first paycheck from my new job. I called the collections agency to see if I could skip a month and add it on to the end, and they said that was fine, or I could reschedule that specific month’s payment to be withdrawn on a different day.
I just really got the impression that once you tell them you’re serious about starting to pay, they’ll work with you based on your circumstances. Even if they lead with huge sums and intimidation.
And as far as different cards, if they are held by different collections agencies, you would probably have to make separate payment plans. I’ve heard the advice to start with the smallest debt and eliminate that first and work your way up.
Good luck! Seriously, the hardest part is deciding to fix it and having that first conversation with the scary mean money strangers. Then it’s just a matter of sticking to the plan. It’s possible! And it feels so good!

ladybug (#2,583)

@sharongracepjs thanks so much! real life details of this seem very hard to come by.

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