Expert Q&A

Credit card bill lost in the mail? You still have to pay it


A postal service mistake doesn’t relieve you of the duty to pay your bills, but those who pay faithfully can often catch a break — before the goof damages their credit scores.

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Question for the expert

Dear Credit Score Report,
We did not receive a statement from Bank of America on a credit card one month, then we received one the following month with a past due balance. We live in a rural area and have had trouble receiving our mail in the past. The bank reported us 30 days delinquent, which reduced our credit score substantially. This is resulting in a higher rate on the loan we are applying for. We’ve always had flawless credit, and this bank will do nothing because they say they are required by law to report this. They say they never received the statement back, and therefore, we are at fault, not them. What recourse do we have to get this removed from our credit report? — Kristy  


Answer for the expert

Hey Kristy,
You may or may not be able to get that delinquency off your credit report, depending on your payment history. But either way, there’s an important lesson to be learned from this: Even if a bill gets lost in the mail, it’s still your responsibility to pay it on time.

Bank of America must report your account information accurately and promptly to the credit bureaus — and that includes your missed payment. Industry requirements dictate the bank can’t be selective about what account data it provides and what data it withholds. But in the case of customer delinquencies, banks do seem to have some wiggle room.

You say that you have a flawless credit history. Given that, it’s unusual that Bank of America would have reported you after a single missed payment. That isn’t how the bank usually operates, says spokeswoman Betty Riess. She says BofA only reports cardholders after two or more missed payments.

Based on your situation, the bank should have cut you some slack. “If a customer does not receive a statement for a given month, we may remove any fees or delinquency from a customer’s account as a courtesy,” says Riess. However, if your credit history isn’t quite as flawless as you indicated, and this isn’t your first missed payment, the bank isn’t likely to give you a pass.

I’d recommend calling BofA again to explain the situation and ask that it remove this delinquency from your record. What if that attempt also fails? Then helping your credit score recover will require a focus on the future. “Although she cannot go back and fix what was reported in the past, she can control what she does going forward,” says Laura Creamer, an Atlanta-based financial education specialist for the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.

From now on, make sure your credit card bill always gets paid on time. After all, while the post office may be to blame for losing your card statement, you should still know when your monthly bill is due. Thanks to the Credit CARD Act of 2009, a cardholder’s due date falls on the same day each month.

Here are some options that experts recommend:

  • Mark your calendar with due dates for any loans, credit card payments and any other monthly bills. “Some people even set alarms on their phone or computer as a reminder,” Creamer says.
  • Ask the bank to change your monthly due date to one that’s easy to remember. That may be a date that your other bills are also due, such as the 1st or 15th of every month.
  • Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account so that the billing amount comes out on or before the monthly due date. If you choose this option, Creamer recommends you frequently check your bank account to make sure you have enough funds to avoid getting hit with overdraft fees.
  • If you have Internet access, make your payments online. BofA, like virtually all banks these days, offers online banking and paperless statement options.

Meanwhile, to spur your credit score’s recovery, reduce debt levels by making more than the minimum monthly payments, don’t open or close accounts unnecessarily and continue to pay all your bills on time. “On-time payments consistently each month should help her credit score to improve,” Creamer says.

Good luck!


See related: Credit card reform law and you

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