You may have a grace period on your credit reports, but your lender will still charge you a late fee
Most people know that late payments affect their credit. However, few know exactly when late payments will go onto their credit reports and when they will hurt their credit scores.
The voluntary nature of credit reporting makes the issue complicated. The Fair Credit Reporting Act does not require lenders or credit card companies to report information about customer accounts to credit bureaus; they report such information voluntarily. This is why you will sometimes find some of your accounts on one of your credit reports that does not appear on another.
There is more structure regarding late payments. If lenders decide to report your late payments to a credit bureau, they can't do so until you are a full 30 days past the due date. There is no systemic method for reporting accounts that are one to 29 days past due.
There are many scenarios in which a lender may choose not to report late payments until you are several months past due on payments. The credit reports for customers in such instances may show a long history of payments made on time followed by a record of being 90 days late or more.
People frequently misinterpret these records as incorrect credit reporting since customers can't be on time one month and then 60, 90, 120, or more days past due the very next month. These instances are examples of lenders cutting the customer some slack and not reporting the increasing number of late payments until the account is delinquent by several months.
Late Payments and Your Credit Score
Have you ever heard someone say something like "One late payment can't hurt your credit scores" or "You have to be late on at least two payments before your scores will take a hit"? Both of these are 100 percent wrong.
Just one late payment absolutely can hurt your credit scores, hurt them greatly—if the lender reports the late payment. It is also true, however, that a late payment will not appear until you are 30 or more days behind.
The format that credit reporting agencies use for late payments looks like this:
- 30-59 days late
- 60-89 days late
- 90-119 days late
- 120-149 days late
- 150-179 days late
- 180+ days late
Can you see what's missing? There's no option for reporting a late payment between one and 29 days past due. It doesn't exist.
This is the real reason that making your payment a few weeks late won't hurt your credit scores: it can't appear on your credit reports.
Remember, though, that this 30-day grace period applies only to credit reports. If you're one day late on a payment, your lender does consider you late, period. And when you're late, you usually have to pay a late fee and—for credit cards—interest on the unpaid balance.
This is one reason why it's best to get in the habit of making all of your payments on time, every time. If you do, you won't have to worry about late fees, added interest charges, or credit reporting practices.