Whether you forgot to put it on your calendar or you’re struggling to afford them, you might’ve just done it. You missed a credit card payment.

It happens, even if we can’t help it. Missing a credit card payment happens to many of us if we don’t stay on top of monthly bills or make sure our budget accounts for it. But it’s an important mistake that can have vital consequences.

What if I’m only a few days late?

Even though credit card issuers give you a built-in repayment system, you may take a few days longer to get your payment in. If you realize your payment is late by a few days, pay it immediately. Your account is considered delinquent until you pay your debt. The faster you pay it off, the sooner the delinquency is removed.

You may have a late payment enacted immediately because those can be an automatic penalty that hits your account. If this is your first time being late, you can contact your credit card issuer to ask to have the late fee removed. Most of the time, if you’ve never been late with payments, your lender will remove the charge.

If it’s only been a few days, the late payment and fee may not have been reported to the credit bureaus yet. But different companies report at different times throughout the month. There’s a chance it got reported in the small window you missed your payment.

What if I’m more than 30 days late?

By now, your late payment has been reported to the credit bureaus. Your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score and is the largest determining factor. If your credit history shows a recent payment past due, it can hurt your chances of borrowing money in the future. This can be in the form of a loan, like a mortgage, or another credit card.

While you still may be subjected to a late fee and a drop in your credit score, you can rebound from this in a few months. If you make on-time payments from here on out, you’ll see your score go up soon. 

Keep in mind that late payments can stay on your credit report for seven years. While the significance of that late payment lessens with time, it can still hurt your chances of qualifying for credit cards or loans in the future.

What if I’m really late?

The longer you take to pay off your credit card payment, the worse off you’ll be. After six consecutive months of missed payments, your account will go into default.

If your missed credit card payment causes you to go into default, you’re going to have a hard time qualifying for loans or credit cards, including a mortgage or buying a car.

You can try to negotiate your terms by agreeing to pay the balance in return for getting the negative mark removed from your credit report. The longer you wait to handle this, the less likely your debt collector will agree to these terms, but you can still ask. 

If you can’t pay the amount in full, try to settle for less than the amount you owe by agreeing to pay it right away (rather than installments). Until you pay off your debt, it won’t go away. It’s best to work out a plan to pay it off as fast as possible to start rebuilding your credit.

How to avoid missing credit card payments

Those with the best credit scores and almost impeccable reports have a solid system in place to avoid missing credit card payments. To make sure you stay on top of your bills, try a few different methods to find one that works.

1. Set up auto-pay. Not all credit card companies offer automatic payments on credit cards since the balance changes every pay period. But it doesn’t hurt to check if your institution offers this. It’s the fastest and simplest way to avoiding late payments since your card gets automatically paid every month. See if you can set up paying the balance in full or for minimum payments.

2. Set calendar reminders. Add monthly reminders for when your credit card bill is due. You can either set it for the day of or the day before to give yourself a cushion to pay it off on time. If you don’t have auto-pay, setting calendar reminders is a big help to making sure you pay your credit card by the due date.

3. Set notifications or alerts. Many lenders allow you to sign up for email or text notifications every time your bill is upcoming. These alerts may be a few days in advance of the due date, but can still give your brain that reminder it needs to pay your credit card.

Bottom line

If you realize you’ve missed a payment, address it immediately, don’t wait. Then put a reminder system in place to ensure you’re always on time in the future.