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The problem with paperless credit card bills: Forgetting to pay

Create some backup reminders for yourself or automate payments

By

To Her Credit
To Her Credit, Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear To Her Credit,
I had a Chase credit card. My daughter signed me up on e-mail payments. However, when signing up we were not signed up for e-mail notification, so we never paid attention to when the bill was due.

Looking back, I think receiving a bill in the mail is the best policy. It also makes sense that when we signed up for e-mail payments, there should automatically have been a requirement for e-notification, which would have prevented us from being late.

I completely forgot about this bill. This bill went without being paid for 60 days, and we didn't get one telephone call. I hardly use this card -- even after forgetting it, my balance was only $202. My credit limit was $15,000, which I would like to have kept. The only time I thought to telephone the company was when I received a letter regarding the interest rate change.

I still wouldn't have thought about the card, except I tried to use it and discovered it's been closed! I think it was unfair for the company not to at least telephone me regarding the past due amount so I wouldn't have lost my card. Is there anything that we as consumers can do about this?

-- Bonita

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Bonita,
Everyone at one time or another has forgotten something -- usually something they never expected to forget, such as a bill, a tax-filing date or someone's birthday. It's a humbling experience! If it makes you feel better, remember you have lots of company!

Completely forgetting a credit card bill for more than 60 days cost you some pride, late charges and interest, your credit card, and a ding on your credit report. It's annoying, but be glad the balance is relatively low. You can pay off the $202, keep a clean credit history from now on, apply for another card and all is well.

Yes, Chase should have called you and written you by postal mail when you missed a payment. They didn't, for whatever reason, and although you can explain the situation to them, there's not much else you can do. The best strategy is to look for ways to keep this from happening again.

I find the most surefire way to avoid forgetting things is to assume that I will. Here are some ways to make sure you never miss another bill:

  • Automate payments. Sign up for online bank bill pay and have a minimum amount sent to your credit card account every month. If you use the card a lot, you can keep the balance low by sending automatic payments every week or two. Make sure you always have enough in your checking account balance to cover it, of course.
  • Pay bills online. It's easy to keep track of when you paid each creditor online, and paying bills online is so fast that you're likely to do it more often. Plus, it's easier to keep track of your account balance if you don't use paper checks, because you'll never have checks outstanding.
  • Get a bill in the mail. It's hard to think of a better use for a little paper than keeping you from racking up a $32 or more in late fees! E-bills sound handy, but they're all too easy to lose -- or not receive in the first place.
  • Keep all your bills in one place. Don't set bills down anyplace else, and don't keep anything else in the Bills Place.
  • Go through all your bills once a week, preferably on the same day. Or pay them as they come in.
  • Consider using Quicken or other personal finance software to track your bill due dates, or mark them off on a recurring list or calendar. That way, even if you're traveling, you can make sure you haven't missed anything.

See related: 12 tips for automated bill-paying, 6 credit card terms you can negotiate and change, Credit card negotiation in three, not so easy, steps, Credit card etiquette: How to politely negotiate -- and win

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Published: May 28, 2010


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Updated: 09-30-2016


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