3 steps to avoid a lower credit score if you are struggling with late payments

By Jackie Lam

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Sep 22, 2023

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I wanted so desperately to be a member of the Good Credit Club. For so many years, I had burned proverbial holes in my pockets and racked up my credit cards. I was determined to turn it all around. 

But when I suddenly lost my job, it became harder and harder to cover my rent and put food on the table. Feelings of frustration and being overwhelmed set in. I had the best intentions to stay on top of my credit card and loan payments, but I found myself slipping. 

If this sounds like you, understand that even though money might be tight or life throws you a curveball, there are ways to steer clear of lower credit score territory. Here are three steps you can take:

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1. Bring your accounts current 

Late payments are reported to the credit bureaus. Some lenders report to all three—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—while some only report to one. It’s in your best interest to do whatever it takes to shore up money and cover any outstanding or late payments. That will set you up for making on-time payments going forward. 

Go through your accounts and tally up how much is overdue, the monthly amount, and the due dates. If you have any questions, reach out to your creditors or lenders. 

Next, find ways to rack up cash. Resell your stuff online. Take on a side hustle as a driver or delivering food. Drop subscriptions you pay for every month. 

Use Achieve's MoLO app, which syncs up with your accounts, tracks your spending, and helps you find more money left over each month. 

Getting and staying current is one of the best things you can do to protect your credit standing.

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2. Move your payment due dates 

Do you have awkward payment due dates (like right before your direct deposit hits your account)? You can probably make them better.

Lenders want you to pay on time just as much as you do. First, log into your account and search for a way you can change when your monthly payments are due. If not, give them a call. Many lenders will move your payment due date so it's more doable to pay on time. 

For instance, let's say the majority of your bills are due on the 1st (hello, rent!) and the 25th of the month. You get paid twice a month, on the 1st and 15th. Ask your credit card issuer to move your due date to the 16th. 

It might seem like a nothing burger, but you'll be surprised at how that simple move can take the stress out of staying on top of your bills.

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3. Ask for a lower monthly payment 

Hey, it couldn't hurt. If you're on the struggle bus, ask to talk to the creditor’s or lender’s Hardship Department. Explain your situation and that you've been a good customer for X months/years and want to stay that way. Let them know that while you definitely prioritize paying off your balance, your current circumstances are making it difficult to pay off your debt.

Your lender might be willing to work with you and‌ offer you a lower monthly payment. If they do, give yourself a big pat on the back for making financially responsible moves. It's by taking action that you put the power back into your own hands.

Bonus tip to avoid the damage from late payments

If you can swing it, set up autopay. Otherwise, set reminders as to when your bills are due. Besides potentially hurting your credit standing, late payments (even one day!) usually come with late fees. That could put you even further behind financially.

It's possible to prevent credit damage even if you’re having a hard time. What matters most is how you handle it. If you’re ready to take action, but you’re not sure what your options are or how to start, get a free debt evaluation by an expert who can help.

Jackie Lam - Author

Jackie is an Achieve contributor. She is an accredited financial coach (AFC®) who has written for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, CNET, USA Today's Blueprint, and others. She coaches artists and freelancers.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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