Are you wondering how paying off your debt could affect your credit score? There’s no doubt that paying all of your debts is the ideal thing to do, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. If you’ve lost your job or suffered other hardships, you may have to choose which bills to pay. Here’s how each course of action will affect your credit score.
1. Paying in Full
You may be unable to pay in full now, but it’s worth considering in case you win the lottery, find a higher paying job or have some other windfall. When you start paying on time again, you’ll have positive payment history added to your credit report.
Unfortunately, any past late payments or other negative remarks will not be removed from your credit report when you bring the account current. They may affect your credit score for up to seven years from when they happened.
2. Paying Only the Minimum Payment
Paying the minimum payment due by the due date keeps your accounts current and avoids late payment penalties. Even when money is tight, make paying the minimum payment on every account your first priority.
When possible, you should pay more than the minimum. In addition to saving interest, you’ll also be improving your credit profile.
Paying only the minimum payment can lead to your credit card utilization ratio increasing, which will lower your credit score. Credit card companies also have internal models that flag accounts with only minimum payments as high risk, and they may reduce your credit limit or close your account.
3. Paying Late
Paying late should never be an option. Even if you’re trying to pay off a higher interest credit card first, don’t skip paying the minimum payment on your lower interest cards.
If you absolutely can’t make every minimum payment, you should understand the two payment deadlines. The first is the actual due date that must be met to avoid a late fee, while the second is for credit scoring purposes. Late payments aren’t reported to the credit bureau as long as you make the payment within 30 days of the due date.
4. Ignoring Your Bills
If you can’t make your minimum payments and have already had a late payment reported on your credit report, don’t just ignore the bill. It will only get worse.
Unpaid debts will be reported as charged off or result in a lawsuit and judgment against you. These have a much bigger negative impact on your credit report than late payments.
If you’re sued, you’re also at risk of having your wages or bank accounts garnished and losing even more control over your finances.
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5. Using the Debt Snowball Method
The debt snowball method is a strategy you can use once you stabilize your finances and are able to make more than the minimum payment on your credit cards. With the snowball approach, you focus on paying off one credit card at a time — either the lowest balance or the highest interest rate.
The downside to the snowball method is that your credit score may not rise as quickly as it could. It’s typically better to have moderate balances on all of your cards than to have one or two with no balance and the rest almost maxed out.
The credit card companies that you’re only paying minimum payments to may also get nervous, as explained above.
6. Taking Out a Loan to Pay Off Credit Cards
Taking out a loan to pay off credit card debt may or may not be advantageous. The biggest positive impact it will have is to bring up your credit score by reducing your credit card utilization ratio.
However, a loan will often have higher monthly payments than your credit card minimum payments. This puts you at greater risk of making late payments unless you’re absolutely sure you can meet the new payment amount.
Of course, you’ll also need to compare the interest rate of the loan to your credit card rates to see if it’s worth it. This is more likely to be the case if previous late credit card payments have pushed you up to the penalty APR.
7. Offering a Settlement
If lenders believe there is a risk they won’t be paid in full, they’re often willing to accept a lump-sum settlement or a modified payment plan. Legally, you won’t owe them any remaining balance, but your account won’t be reported as in good standing on your credit report.
Your credit report will also reflect that you settled the account for less than what you owed. As with other options, past negative history is not deleted.
8. Paying for Deletion
Paying for deletion is a type of settlement where you ask the creditor to remove negative items from your credit report in exchange for your payment. You may also be able to ask that the account be marked as paid in full rather than settled or charged off.
Technically, the credit bureaus don’t allow this practice, but many creditors bend the rules if it helps them get paid. If you’re successful, the negative items will be removed from your credit report, and your score will be the same as it would have been if they were never added.
9. Declaring Bankruptcy
A bankruptcy in itself has one of the largest negative impacts on your credit score, and it also doesn’t erase negative history. However, bankruptcy will stop collections and prevent new negative marks from being added to your credit report.
If you can’t keep up with your payments, bankruptcy may be the best option to stop the damage and allow you to focus on rebuilding your credit score.