I Can't Make My Credit Card Minimum Payment...Now What?
We know allllllll about that gnarled pit of anxiety you get in your stomach when you realize you're not going to be able to swing an upcoming payment. This article gives clear, actionable steps for any situation where you're struggling to make minimum payments - regardless of the type of loan or bill. We're here for you - so take a deep breath, and read on.
I Can't Make My Credit Card Minimum Payment... Now What?
Life change, job loss, worldwide pandemic, skyrocketing housing costs, mental health challenges, inflation, and the list goes on. There are many reasons you could find yourself unable to keep up with the payments you have due each month. Start here and find out what can help.
1. Realize Your Stress Response to Missing a Credit Card Minimum Payment
The best thing to do as you're beginning to fall behind financially is take action as soon as possible. We all know we should take action, but it's an entirely different thing to actually do it. Why? Because of our body's hard-wired stress response to either fight, take flight, or freeze.
An article1 from Healthline states that the fight-flight-freeze response isn't a conscious decision, it's an automatic reaction. Only by recognizing it's happening can we try to take back control. Here's what each of these responses look like in the face of a perceived threat (which, yes, does include financial stress!):
[Attacking the threat in some way, aggressive behavior]
Finance Connection: 'Fighting' a credit card minimum payment might look like the individual calling the institution and aggressively arguing over the payment, refusing to pay anything, falsely claiming fraud, or trying to close the account, etc.
[Fleeing or running away from the threat, actively moving in the opposite direction or responding with an opposite behavior]
Finance connection: 'Flight' from a credit card minimum payment might look like the individual charging several more purchases to the credit card, and throwing away or deleting any items related to debt payment or collection.
Freezing is "on-hold" Fight or Flight. Immobility, or doing nothing, is considered a freeze response and is the most common way we react to financial stress.
Finance connection: 'Freezing' in the face of a credit card minimum payment might look like the individual refusing to collect, view, or open mail, not answering phone calls or emails from creditors, and avoiding conversations with loved ones about finances.
Do any of these responses feel familiar? Acknowledging it (no judgment!) makes it easier the next time you start to feel this way. You can regain control over your financial situation. The emotional and financial relief that taking action can bring will make facing your debts worth the effort. Next up - how to start.
2. Call Me, Maybe
One of the best things you can do to improve your situation is to call your lender.
What?!? You want me to call the institution I owe crazy amounts of money to and can't pay?!
Yes. Almost all banks and credit unions will be so happy you called and were honest about your situation, that they will absolutely negotiate with you if you’re struggling to make your payments. Balance payoff will be much easier with this help. This is especially true during a recession, natural disaster, or other large scale event with an economic impact. (Hello 911, I'd like to report the year 2020.)
Beyond simply wanting to help, lenders have a financial incentive to do so. If your lender can’t get a hold of you to pay your debt or if you go too long between payments, they’re often forced to send the debt to a collection agency. [Whom they have to pay!] Which is one reason lenders are eager to help you make a plan to pay off your debt without involving collectors. Not only does this help you avoid the stressful collection process, but it can save you from negative impacts on your credit report for not paying your credit card minimum payment. For more info about how skipping payments affects your credit score, check out our article Credit Score Chart + 5 Key Factors or sign in to online banking and get daily credit score updates, plus alerts for free via my Free Credit Score. You can also watch our recent webinar: The Secret To Good Credit with our VP of Lending, Russ.
3. Prep and Plan (To avoid a 'next time' missing a credit card minimum payment.)
While you're working with your lender, they'll probably want you to come up with a plan/budget so that you know how much you can realistically afford to put towards your current outstanding balance, while still covering your other living expenses and necessities. A free budgeting template will help, plus a copy of a recent month's bank statements to get a good look at where your money is going and how you can adjust that to meet your future goals
If you have multiple minimum payments you're working on, consider a self-directed debt payoff approach. Please Get Our Debt Relief Bundle and Say Cheers to a Debt Free Future that includes resources like a worksheet for calculating your personal Debt Directable Dollars each month, as well as a step-by-step guide for following the Roll-Up Method and Fixed Payment Methods of debt payoff. For even more guidance, watch our On-Demand Webinar - How To Pay Off Debt: Top 2 Strategies. We offer these resources for free because we want to help you come up with a realistic financial plan that works for your family.
Refinancing means you take out Loan B to pay off Loan A. Sometimes this is beneficial because it may allow you to get a lower interest rate and/or monthly payment. But there are also drawbacks. Often, in order to lower your payment, you’ll need to change the term of your loan, making it longer. That means that while your monthly payment may go down, the amount that you paid for the loan all together (total interest paid) will go up. There also may be fees associated with refinancing, depending on the type of loan. For example, if you refinance a mortgage, you may need to pay closing costs and application fees.
Consolidating your debt is when you take the total amounts of Loans A, B, C, and D and take out Loan E to pay off all of those. Then you only have one simple payment to make each month. Debt consolidation loans can be extremely helpful for some people, but can make others' situations worse, especially if they don't have a plan to prevent racking up new debt. Debt consolidation loans take many forms - personal loans, home equity loans, balance transfer credit cards (with low promotional interest rates) cash-out refis, and others.
For more details and to help weigh the pros and cons of a debt consolidation loan, check out our recent on-demand webinar on the topic: Smart Debt Consolidation Plan.
5. Think About Help From A Trusted Partner
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, know there are free resources from nonprofit organizations designed specifically to assist in this type of situation! Individualized help can make all the difference. You don't have to hire a professional or pay for services in order to get help with planning for credit card minimum payments.
Copper State Credit Union partners with GreenpathTM to provide debt and credit counseling completely free as a benefit to our members. These professionals, who are all nationally certified credit counselors, can assist you in making a plan and walk you through strategies that will work best for your situation.
Beyond the free debt and credit counseling sessions, GreenPathTM advisors can also help you to take a look at your credit report for free, help you set up a budget for free, provide housing counseling, help you avoid bankruptcy, or in some cases, offer you a Debt Management Plan (DMP).
Debt Management Plans with GreenPathTM significantly lower your interest rate so that you can make faster progress on your loan. DMPs do come with a fee, but most people find that in the face of overwhelming debt that would take decades to tackle on their own, it's worth it. DMPs are not the same as debt settlement or debt relief. You still pay back the full amount you owe, but you're likely to pay closer to 5% APR on your debt instead of your current 20% APR (just an example, rates not guaranteed) because of GreenPath's reputation and longstanding relationship with creditors. Credit car minimum payments become much more impactful as you're making faster headway on the principal amount borrowed.
If you aren't sure what step to take next, Greenpath is a good place to start because it's free and absolutely no obligation to get a little personalized advice.
Life happens. Overwhelming debt is hard to face. We hope some of the tips above have helped you feel better about your situation and know that you're not alone if you feel like you can't make your credit card minimum payment.
This article is intended to be a general resource only and is not intended to be nor does it constitute legal advice. Any recommendations are based on opinion only.
Rates, terms, and conditions are subject to change and may vary based on creditworthiness, qualifications, and collateral conditions. All loans subject to approval.