Dear Credit Score Report,
My credit card company accepted a payment over the phone that was one day over the due date and told me that such a payment is not considered late for reporting purposes. They also gave me a grace on a late payment charge that would have been $35. Was that really accurate? Does that apply to all cards? 

- Jean

Hey Jean,
A credit card payment made fewer than 30 days late typically isn't reported as "delinquent," but if you're not more careful, you might not be so lucky next time.

Banks typically report account information to the credit bureaus every month. That means it usually takes an entire billing cycle or longer before an unpaid balance shows up on a credit report. "For example, if the due date is today, the late payment would usually not be reported unless the payment was still not received by the due date next month," says Rod Griffin, director of public education at credit bureau Experian. If you pay the bank within those 30 days, the card issuer can adjust your balance accordingly and will inform the bureaus your account is current. (Some banks wait even longer to report delinquencies, with Bank of America saying it only reports after the second missed payment and Citi saying it waits approximately 65 days or after two missed payments.) 

What about that late fee? Penalty fees -- such as late fees -- can vary by issuer, so be sure to read your card agreement. "Even if the delinquency is not reported, the lender may assess late fees or other penalties that are defined in the account contract," Griffin says. This time, your bank was willing to reverse the charge.

Although you were excused from the fee and won't have a "late" notation on your credit report, the bank may not be so forgiving of future delinquencies. That means even if your next late payment is within the 30 days before the next billing cycle rolls around, "the lender could choose to report the delinquency before that," Griffin says. It may also be unwilling to forgive any penalty fees. For example, Citi generally will not "waive the late fee except in cases of bank error, natural disaster or an emergency situation that the customer tells us about," says spokeswoman Molly Meiners. "We do not waive it if the customer has a repeated pattern of lateness."

That brings me to another point: Occasional late fees were capped at $25 by the Credit CARD Act of 2009, with second offenses within six months resulting in a $35 fee. While you don't provide any background on your payment history, perhaps you've already been late more than once. If that's the case, you'll need to be extra vigilant about always paying on time from now on. Otherwise, the bank likely won't budge on reversing any future late fees and may be quick to tell the credit bureaus you've been delinquent. And if you're really late -- I'm talking more than 60 days delinquent -- the card issuer can raise the interest rate on your existing card balance.

To avoid all of that, do whatever is necessary to keep up with card payments: Set up e-mail or text alerts to remind yourself when payments are due and put those dates on your calendar. You can also allow the bank to automatically debit your checking account for the amount of your monthly balance. Think about what strategy will work best for you.

Your wallet will thank you.  

Good luck!


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