There are 70 million more credit card accounts open now than there were in 2019, before the pandemic. In the current economic environment, wallets are being stretched and credit cards are being used to bridge the gap.
According to a recent Federal Reserve survey, credit card debt has reached over $1 trillion, which means that Americans are carrying more debt than ever. Add in inflation and student loan payments resuming in October and you might really feel a pinch in your wallet.
Many are already feeling the pinch, as the same Fed survey found credit card delinquencies are up, surpassing Covid levels. A delinquency occurs when you are behind in payments owed to a card issuer or you send in payments after the due date has passed. This is serious, because a late payment can affect your financial prospects for a long time. One 30-day late payment can drop your credit score 20 to 60 points and a late payment remains on your credit report for seven years.
Before you make a late payment, there are steps you can take to make your payments on time and keep your good credit intact. Recently, I made an appearance on Good Morning America to discuss credit card delinquencies and how to protect your credit score. Here are the steps I shared:
1. Call your credit card issuer
As soon as you start experiencing financial difficulty, call the credit card issuer and let them know. Once a late payment happens, it is harder to resolve the matter. A late payment can be reported as soon as it happens, but if you can get ahead of it and work out a plan with the issuer, you put yourself in a much better position.
Explain to the credit card company that you are having difficulty and that you might make a payment late or that you want to work out a plan so that the late payment doesn’t happen. If you explain your situation, some issuers may not report your late payment to the credit bureaus if you have a history of paying on time.
2. Negotiate with your issuer
When talking to the issuer, everything is up for discussion. Think about what would be helpful to you. Maybe an interest rate reduction, a reduction in the monthly payment amount, or even moving your payment due date can help you make your payments on time.
It’s also important to understand that these conversations are more positive when you are a good customer with a history of on-time payments, which is why it’s better to talk to your issuer before you are late. It is in the best interest of the credit card company to work with you because they want to get paid, but the better customer you are, the more the credit card company will be willing to work with you.
3. Revise your budget
Heading into fall, your expenses may increase. Plan ahead for that now. If you are one of many who will start repaying student loans, add that into your budget and review spending habits to see where you can cut spending and make room to take care of your financial responsibilities. Revising your budget to cut out unnecessary spending can help you get through a difficult period.
4. Pay off existing debt
One of the best things you can do to protect your credit is reduce your debt load. If you have high credit card balances with expensive interest rates, it will become more difficult to pay down the road. Take care of that now and eliminate that debt.
The best thing you can do right now is keep an eye on your credit. To automate this process and protect against identity theft, you can consider outsourcing the task — some of the best credit monitoring services are free. Your credit score determines the interest rate you will receive on everything from credit cards to auto loans and mortgages, and can even be pulled for auto insurance and employment prospects.
With interest rates still high, good credit is even more important.