Editorial Policy

Will 2-day-late payment kill my credit score?

Erica Sandberg

December 17, 2013

QDear Erica,

I am freaking out. My credit score is 810 — so nearly perfect. I have two credit cards. For the past five years, I have never had a debt that I couldn't pay off 100 percent and have never been late on anything. Last month, I completely spaced. My Visa was due on the 20th, and I totally forgot. I called Wells Fargo and paid on the 22nd over the phone, and they offered to waive the late fee. But now what about my credit score? What did this do to it? — Sabrina

ADear Sabrina,

Worrying about whether paying a credit card bill two days past the due date will hurt your credit rating is like fretting about a shark attack while living in Oklahoma. In both scenarios, you're in just about no danger. In fact, you have every right to smile and relax. Nothing bad is happening to you or your credit rating.Ask Erica

I'm glad that you're taking your financial record so seriously, though. Your credit score, assuming it's a FICO score, is nearing the top of the scale, as it only goes up to 850, and protecting it makes sense. Assuming that you would like to take out a loan with extremely low interest rates or get another credit card that offers a fantastic rewards program, that score will come in handy. An excellent credit score plus a healthy income will place you in the coveted “most desired customer” position, meaning you'll probably qualify for first-class products and financing.

The late payment that's bothering you won't be factored into your credit score, however, because you didn't skip an entire billing cycle. You see, there are two dates to focus on when it comes to your credit card statement. The first is the due date, which is when you're expected to send at least the minimum requested payment. If you miss that, most issuers will slap your hand with a late fee. You did the right thing by calling your issuer, because the charge was reversed. Because you're such a valued cardholder, they were eager to make you happy in this way.

The other time frame you have to pay attention to is not quite so clear, but definitely crucial, and that's the billing cycle. You can figure out that date by simply counting ahead by one month from when you were expected to make a payment. If you don't pay by then, the issuer will send notice to the credit bureaus that you've skipped an entire 30 days. Miss another and you'll be marked as 60 days late, and so on and so forth. Each progressive late payment will be calculated into your FICO score, and, because your payment record is the most important scoring factor, they will steadily erode your rating.

So you are safe! No one but your bank will ever know that you sent your payment in a trifle late, so freaking out about it is a waste of your precious time. Instead, just get back in the game and continue to do what you had been doing before the mini-mishap. To be absolutely certain that you won't forget again, log in to online banking and see if you can set up reminders on your bank's bill pay system. Many banks, including Wells Fargo, have this function, and they'll send you an email or text alerting you to upcoming bills. You might also consider setting up automatic payments of your entire balance — just make sure you're reviewing your card statements regularly for any mysterious charges.

Finally, keep in mind that FICO scores bounce up and down with monthly activity. Fluctuations are normal even when you're behaving perfectly, so don't get upset if you spot a slight decrease. Your numbers are firmly in the “excellent” zone, and a single few-days-late payment won't kick you from the top spot.

Got a question for Erica? Send her an email.