Credit card delinquency occurs when a cardholder falls behind on making required monthly payments. While being 30 days late is generally considered delinquent, it typically takes two months of delinquent payments before the information is reported to credit reporting agencies. If an account is reported delinquent, then the event can have a negative effect on your credit score and curtail your ability to borrow in the future. However, once you have a thorough understanding of delinquency, dealing with it is actually quite straightforward.

Key Takeaways

  • Credit card delinquency refers to falling behind on required monthly payments to credit card companies.
  • Being late by more than one month is considered delinquent, but the information is typically not reported to credit reporting agencies until two or more payments are missed.
  • Delinquent accounts on a credit report can lower credit scores and reduce an individual’s ability to borrow in the future.
  • Missing four or five payments likely will move the account into collections, but making just one minimum payment can stop the progression of late payments.
  • Positive information on your credit report—such as accounts in good standing—can help offset some of the blemishes caused by past delinquencies.

What Is Credit Card Delinquency?

When using a credit card, you must pay a certain fraction of your balance each month to stay current on your account. By giving you a line of credit, the credit card issuer is basically providing you with a loan that you must pay down little by little each month. By failing to make required monthly minimum payments, you, as the cardholder, are breaking the terms of your agreement with the lender, and the account becomes delinquent.

Delinquency is divided into levels, which are indicative of how many payments the cardholder has missed. These levels are often referred to in terms of days. For example, the day after you miss your first payment, you are one day delinquent. After you miss your second payment, you are 30 days delinquent, and so on.

Technically, a consumer becomes delinquent after missing a single monthly payment. However, delinquency is not generally reported to the major credit bureaus until two consecutive payments have been missed. Consumers are thus provided a buffer zone and are allowed one misstep without suffering significant repercussions.

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How Credit Card Delinquency Works

Effects of Delinquency

Make no mistake about it, though, a fool-me-twice-shame-on-you type of principle is in effect because being reported to the credit bureaus as delinquent will have a negative impact on your credit score. While the damage might be relatively minimal after only two missed payments, after three, your credit score may fall by as much as 180 points.

Once four payments have been missed, the impact on your credit score will become even more severe, and your account will likely be turned over to collections. The efforts of collectors will surely ramp up after five missed payments, and the possibility of legal action likely will be in play.

In addition to suffering credit score damage and being the subject of collection efforts, a delinquent consumer will have their charging privileges either suspended pending payment or revoked permanently, meaning that full payment will mark account closure. While these punishments might seem severe, consider the situation further: Someone who reaches this level of delinquency did not pay their credit card bills for five months. A credit card is not a magic piece of plastic that allows for free purchasing, and such behavior is usually not tolerated by any credit card company.

Getting Out of Delinquency

Still, just as there is a way to get into delinquency, there is a way to stop and ultimately escape it. Making one minimum payment stops the progression of delinquency and keeps you at your current delinquency level. Understanding this is essential, because getting reported to the credit bureaus as being 120 days delinquent is far worse than being reported as 90 days delinquent. Thus, if you can pay at least the amount of one minimum payment (generally around 3% of your balance), then you should do so.

However, this is where consumers get into trouble, making the same mistakes over and over again. Fortunately, these errors are not hard to avoid when you know to watch out for them.

Mistake 1. Paying Less Than the Minimum Payment

Interestingly, payments for less than the minimum have no effect on delinquency—almost as if no payment at all was made. Thus, when people pay a little bit (thinking that it will surely improve their situation), it provides no benefit at all. This mistake can easily be avoided, as long as you only make credit card payments greater than or equal to the minimum amount required.

Mistake 2. Paying Only the Minimum Payment

Many people confuse the minimum payment required with the total amount due that appears on their bills. The amount due is the total figure that you must pay to become current and, if you’re delinquent, is likely composed of multiple minimum payments. Don’t refrain from making payments until you have paid the full amount required to bring your account current.

In fact, while making one minimum payment keeps delinquency from worsening, making two decreases delinquency. If you are 90 days delinquent, for instance, then paying the amount equal to two minimum payments will bring you to 60 days. One minimum will count toward what you owe for the current month, and the other will cover one of the payments that you missed. To get out of delinquency completely and become current on your account, you must pay the total of your missed minimum payments plus the current month’s minimum.

Dealing with Delinquency’s Aftermath

Once you become current on your bill, you will need to get to work on reversing the effects of delinquency. Delinquency is like a black eye on your credit report because it signals consumer irresponsibility. However, the more you cover it up with positive usage information, the less glaring it becomes.

The best way to infuse positive information into your credit reports is to open a credit card, because information about credit card usage is reported to the credit bureaus on a monthly basis. Whether you make purchases and pay for them in full or simply maintain an open card with a zero balance, a credit card will provide you ample opportunity to demonstrate fiscal responsibility.

If your credit report contains a record of delinquency that did not occur, then you can send a credit report dispute to have it investigated and possibly removed.

Secured credit cards are particularly apt for credit improvement because to open one, you must place a refundable security deposit. This security deposit makes approval guaranteed, provides your issuer protection against default, and erases the need for an expensive fee structure. Additionally, since it’s also your credit line, the security deposit ensures that you cannot spend beyond your means.

How to Avoid Credit Card Delinquency

The best way to avoid delinquency on credit cards is to manage your debt responsibly. Here are some suggestions:

  • Set up autopay—If you have numerous monthly bills and struggle to keep track of them, then setting up autopay with your bank or credit union can help ensure that you never miss a payment.
  • Prepare your budget—If you were able to take advantage of debt deferment or forbearance during the 2020 economic crisis, then you’ll need to get ready to pay more to cover those debts. Try to set aside enough to pay more than the monthly minimum on your credit cards.
  • Stop using credit cards—Feel like you’re underwater on your bills? Put away your credit cards so you don’t rack up more debt and dig yourself into a deeper hole. Once you have stopped using your cards, you could also consider taking out a personal loan to pay off what you owe with one easy monthly payment. Just be sure not to run up more bills.
  • Call the credit card company—If you’re getting behind on payments, then reach out to the creditor right away. Alerting them to your situation will make them more likely to work with you on a solution.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, you will not recover from the effects of delinquency overnight; it will take time and consistently responsible credit card use. Remember to use your money in the most efficient way possible, by not making payments below the minimum and by understanding the difference between this amount and the total amount due.

Once out of delinquency, you must dilute the negative information on your major credit reports and earn the trust of lenders by illustrating to them that you can handle credit without getting into trouble. So be patient, open a secured credit card, use it wisely, and you’ll eventually regain your previous stature.