Stop Getting Nicked by Late Fees
Charges for paying your credit-card bill past the due date have nearly tripled over the past decade. Here are five ways to beat back those fees
By Megan Johnston

(MONEY Magazine) – To compensate for declining revenues from lower interest rates over the past several years, credit-card issuers have jacked up other charges. Among the most egregious are late fees. In addition to the charge itself, there's the possibility of a punitive hike in your interest rate and a black mark on your credit record that could affect other accounts. Here is a closer look at the problem and some solutions.

Late fees are rising

Increasingly, issuers are using a tiered penalty system that depends on the user's balance—levying, say, a $15 late fee for balances below $100 and up to $39 for balances over $1,000. Plus, you might be hit with a punitive interest rate as high as 41%.


Grace periods are shrinking

You now have just 20 days to pay your bill on time, down from 27 days in 1994.

NOTE: Average late fees. SOURCE:

Universal default is more common

This feature allows an issuer to impose a higher punitive interest rate on your account if you are late with a payment to another creditor, even if you paid your card issuer's bill on time.


SIT DOWN TWICE A MONTH TO PAY BILLS Instead of once, now that grace periods are shorter. And request an easy-to-remember due date, like the first of the month.

SIGN UP FOR AUTOMATIC BILL PAYMENT, which will take care of the discipline of paying on time. Although specific systems vary, you can typically designate the amount of the payment that will be debited from your checking account.

PAY BY PHONE if you're still sending a check by snail mail, you forget to post it and your due date is five days or less away. The typical $15 fee for phone payments is a lot cheaper than the usual late fee.

CALL AND COMPLAIN if you're hit with a late fee but usually pay on time. Many card companies will waive late fees at least once for longstanding customers who have good payment records.

READ THE FINE PRINT to see if your card is subject to universal default. If it is, consider switching to a card that doesn't have this clause in its contract.