By Elliot M. Kass | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Money
Credit experts urge you to pay your credit card balance in full and on time each month, to avoid certain fees and optimize your credit score.
You’ll pay more in interest if you make only the minimum payment each month, and late or missed payments can result in late fees and hurt your credit score.
To help keep your monthly card payments on track, the experts recommend using autopay.
Knowing how and when to pay your credit card bill has become an important 21st century skill. If you want to maximize your credit rating and avoid paying extra interest charges and late fees, you need to understand your credit card’s billing cycle and make it work to your advantage.
Let’s cut to the chase: Experts are unanimous that for the best possible credit score and the lowest possible charges, you should always pay the full balance on your monthly credit card statement on or before the due date.1
Let’s explore these and other expert recommendations on how and when to pay your credit card bill—after debunking two common myths.
It is an urban legend that you need to carry a balance on your card from month to month in order to build your credit score. So much so, in fact, that thousands of people search every month to answer the question, “Is paying off your credit cards in full bad?” The truth is the opposite: Paying your card’s full statement balance each month has a positive impact on your credit, since it lowers your credit utilization rate and demonstrates to lenders that you borrow money responsibly and pay it back reliably. 2
Another myth is that if you pay the minimum payment due each month you’re good to go and won’t incur extra charges. True, if you fail to pay your card’s minimum payment for a given month you will have defaulted on your agreement with the lender and will be charged a late fee—$36 on average, according to U.S. News & World Report.3 In addition, your annual percentage rate (APR) could rise and the credit card company will likely report the missed payment to the credit bureaus, which could damage your credit rating.
That doesn’t mean, however, that all is good if you pay the minimum.
There’s a cost to paying only the minimum. One friend of mine had a credit card statement balance of $5,250 for August 2019, with a minimum payment of $79. According to a credit card payment calculator, if he only ever paid the minimum, and never made another purchase, it would take more than 30 years to pay off that balance! Shockingly, it would cost him more than $24,000, in total, due to compounding interest over all those years.4
A good practice when paying your credit card bill each month is to pay your full outstanding balance on or before the due date. Busy jobs, families, social lives and all the day-to-day distractions that go with them make it easy to lose track of a due date or forget to make a payment. This is especially true for people with more than one credit card. Here are three tips to help you make sure this doesn’t happen to you5:
Most major credit card companies offer automatic payment options, which allow the card company to debit your bank account on a set date and for a set amount each month. There are generally three ways to do this:6
In fact, some experts recommend paying off a portion or all of your balance early, before the monthly due date, as this helps lower your credit utilization rate. Some people even pay their credit card bill twice a month, in the middle and at the end of their monthly cycles, in order to keep that utilization rate as low as possible. If you plan on paying your monthly balance in full each month and are looking to improve your credit score, one of these approaches can be a good way to go.7
Paying your credit card bill on time and in full each month helps you avoid interest charges and late fees, while also helping to improve your credit rating. If your credit score is important to you, making early payments may also boost it, and taking advantage of an autopay service will help ensure that your payments aren’t late.
1 “How to pay your credit card bill,” Credit Karma
3 “What Happens When You Pay Your Credit Card Late?” U.S. News & World Report
4 “Credit Card Minimum Payment Calculator,” Bankrate.com
5 “How to pay your credit card bill,” Credit Karma
6 “Credit card bill autopayments: tips for getting it right,” Creditcards.com
7 “Paying a Credit Card Bill Early: What You Need to Know,” ValuePenguin