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It’s irritating to run across a bill and to realize it was due yesterday… or last week. If it’s a credit card bill, you may also have to pay a fee (sometimes, if it’s a rare slip-up, you can get it waived), and it can be especially scary to find an overdue bill if you have applied for credit or plan to in order to make a big purchase, like a house or vehicle. Readers often ask us how late a payment has to be before their creditors report it to the credit bureaus:

  • From Ig08: Hi, I have my credit card since last 6 years and have never missed any payments, but my last payment was due on 4th may and I paid it on 6th. … Does being one/two days late affect credit score?
  • From INVNOONE: Today [my bill] is 30 days late. When I called my bank they stated, “we cannot tell if it has been reported to the credit bureau.” Should I pay the loan today not knowing if they already reported it late to the credit bureau? This will leave me with very little money but I do care about my credit report.
  • From Stephen: I have perfect credit and a small business and my credit is very important to me. I had a credit card … I thought it was completely paid off there was a $6 remaining balance I paid it in full and it was 31 days late and they put it on my report what kind of options do I have?

First, know that even if a late payment does make its way onto your credit report, it’s not necessarily the end of the world. There are many, many worse things, and there are degrees of lateness. Ninety days late is worse than 60 days, and 60 is worse than 30, for example. One late payment among years of on-time payments is far less serious than a late payment and limited credit history. (Of course, if you are in the middle of applying for a mortgage, one late payment could be a serious setback.)

Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said 30 days is the magic number. “Late payments generally don’t show up until the payment is 30 days ​past due,” she said in an email. “This is the standard reporting guideline for the credit bureaus.”

But one of our readers who goes by the screen name AJ says she was just 14 days late on a car payment, and it showed up on her credit reports. She hasn’t been able to get it removed. Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, said that because it was a car payment (rather than a revolving account, like a credit card), “the ’30-day grace period’ doesn’t necessarily apply.” He added that the payment was late as of the due date, “so the lender may have reported it immediately. You should always be sure to understand the lender’s policy for reporting late payments for the account.” he said. “The commenter should review their contract with the lender to determine what it says regarding when late payments will be reported, or contact the lender. The lender should be able to explain its policy. The 30-day period is specific to revolving accounts, not installment loans.”

If a credit card payment arrives before it is 30 days late, it generally should not be reported negatively or have any effect on your credit score. Beyond that time, however, it’s a distinct possibility that it will. You can get a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. That can show you whether you have had late payments reported. (This guide can help you interpret those reports.)

If it turns out your late payment has been reported, know that its impact on your score will diminish with time (especially if it’s an isolated event), and that other on-time payments can help counter the effects of a slip-up. And, as with almost any other mistake, the sooner you realize you’ve made it and try to fix it, the less likely it is to turn into a big problem.

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