Nobody wants to be in a situation where they can't pay their credit card bill. If it ever happens to you, there is hope. Follow these steps and you will make it right.
1. Don't ignore the bill.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it's not OK to simply avoid doing anything at all. Ignoring your bill and hoping it will go away isn't reasonable and only risks adding red marks to your credit rating. It also makes your phone a favorite target of lenders as they continually hound you in an attempt to get you to pay.
2. Take the initiative and call the lender first.
Pick up the phone and give your credit card company a call. While you wait on hold, take a deep breath and relax. Plan on being polite and firm, but be prepared to negotiate.
3. Request an emergency 30-day deferral.
Explain to the company that you are in dire straits and require an emergency extension on paying your bill. You don't need to be concoct an elaborate lie (and we don't recommend that!). Either use the words "family emergency" or "hardship". That should be enough.
Most credit card companies will work with you on this. While it is true that they want their money, they also want a pleased customer, because a pleased customer is less likely to default completely on their debt (and you don't want either). Make it clear you fully intend to pay, but are asking their help in getting another 30 days of leeway. You want to avoid the lender reporting your missed payment to a credit reporting agency at all costs.
4. Know your rights.
If a lender is being difficult, make sure you know what they cannot do to you as a consumer.
- If you're calling a credit card company itself:
In the United States, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act is a federal statue that prevents lenders from increasing your interest on existing balances, as well as forcing them to give you at least 45 days notice before increasing the interest rate on new balances.
- If you're calling a debt collection agency:
In the United States, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that prevents a debt collector from (among other things) threatening you with violence and abuse (including verbal!). Additionally, it prevents them from threatening to have you arrested.
5. Be prepared to accept a hit on your credit report
Not all lenders will grant you a 30-day reprieve. If their "hands are tied" or "there is nothing they can do", do not lose your temper or speak ill of their business. Remain polite and professional, thank them for listening, and request that they leave a note on your account referring to today's call. You want to convey a sense of responsibility to the lender. If they have a record that you at least attempted to reach out to them to resolve a potential late payment, it may work in your favor in the future.
If nothing else, a record of your attempts to make amends may delay a creditor from handing the bill off to a debt collection agency which can sometimes make things more difficult for you. Try to keep the bill with the credit card company. The aforementioned instructions should help you accomplish this goal.