Do you live paycheck to paycheck? If so, you’re definitely not alone; almost 80% of all American workers are walking the same terrifying financial tightrope. It’s incredibly stressful to know that an unexpected car repair, doctor’s bill, or another emergency will strain your budget to the breaking point. For that reason, many people rely on credit cards as a safeguard, or maybe even pull them out to pay for regular expenses.
But what happens when your finances spiral out of control, even temporarily? If you’re unable to pay credit card minimum payments, you might be tempted to just hide the bills and hope the problem goes away. Here’s why that’s the worst possible path to take.
First, a Word About Minimum Payments
Credit card issuers generally set minimum payments at a — well, at a minimal amount. That’s nice of them, isn’t it? They must realize how much you struggle to make ends meet, and are cutting you a break because you’re a hard worker and a nice person.
Ha! Not so much. Actually, banks and credit card companies keep your minimum payment low not out of generosity, but because they’re greedy. The less money you pay toward your balance, the longer they will be able to charge you interest. More interest = more money in their pockets — and a lot less in yours.
Paying only the minimum should be a last resort strategy. When it comes to budgeting, pay the most you can afford toward your credit card balances, especially those that carry a high interest rate. If possible, look into lower-interest cards and transfer your balances.
I’m Unable to Pay Credit Card Minimum Payment: What Now?
Don’t stick your head in the sand. Here are a few ways to approach the problem. None are ideal, but they’re better than playing ostrich and ignoring your bill altogether.
Contact the Credit Card Company
The first thing to do is to contact the issuer or bank to let them know that you’re going to have trouble meeting your minimum payment obligations. It’s also wise to tell them that this is a one-time occurrence.
Especially if you’ve been a good customer who has always paid your bill on time, they might take pity on you and extend your due date. This will help you avoid a late fee, as well as keep your credit bureau reports showing as “current.”
Rob Peter to Pay Paul
If it’s simply a cash-flow problem you’re facing, see if you can put off paying another bill — say, your Internet service or electricity. Putting that money toward your credit card balance will save you on interest and probably won’t affect your credit score. Make sure that the “Peter” you’re robbing won’t penalize you for a late payment, though, or else the whole house of cards will fall apart.
Drum Up Some Quick Funds
A short-term loan from a friend, relative, or payday loan company could help you out of a jam. See if you can sell something on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay. Sign up to be a Door Dash or Postmates delivery driver, or do a couple of quick gigs on Fiverr to tide you over.
With some ingenuity and a little bit of luck, you’ll be able to get your budget back on track. However, if you are often unable to pay credit card minimum payments, contact a credit counselor for help.
Need a new credit card, or want to transfer your balance? Check out this guide to the best credit cards of 2019.