Never be Late Again: Strategies to Stay on Top of Your Bills

By Mike Peterson
In September 10, 2012

If you’ve ever paid a bill late, you know how devastating a few days can be to your credit score — and your bank account.  Missing the payment deadline on any type of bill can cost a small fortune in late fees — and even if you’re usually prompt with your payments, one late credit card payment can cause your credit score to dip temporarily.  Miss several credit card due dates and you’re looking at serious long-term damage to your score:  Basically, you’re telling potential lenders that you’re more likely than the average person to flake out on your debts.

So how do you make sure that you never miss a payment?  Here are a few handy tips to help you stay on top of your monthly bills:
1)      Pay your bills right away.  The best way to make sure that you don’t forget or misplace your bills is to pay them the day you get them.  The longer you hang onto a bill, the easier it is to misplace it or forget about it entirely.  If you pay all of your bills immediately, that will never be an issue.

But what about that bill that always comes when you’re strapped for cash?  That brings us to the next tip . . .
2)      Change your due date(s).  Most credit card lenders (and some other types of service providers like insurance companies and utility companies) give you the option to choose your due date.  If your credit card bill always comes when you’re broke, move your due date closer to payday.  If you find that you always forget about your insurance bill because it comes at the end of the month, ask to get your statement at the beginning of the month instead.
3)      Sign up for reminders – or create your own.  If you’re the type who tends to simply forget about due dates, it’s a good idea to sign up for email or text message reminders.  Most credit card lenders and other service providers provide some sort of reminder service – check their websites to see how to sign up.

Along the same lines, most smartphones allow you to create your own recurring reminders.  Although the specifics vary from phone to phone, they basically all work the same way:  You choose a date/time, and choose how often you’d like to be reminded (one day before, two days before, the day of, etc.) – and your phone does the rest.
4)      Pay your bills online.  Snail mail is outdated and can be unreliable – just ask anyone who has ever racked up a late fee due to a payment getting lost or delayed in the mail.  A few years ago, online bill payment was still sort of a new thing, and not everybody had it.  But times have changed:  Today, you can pay almost any bill online, from your rent or mortgage payment to your credit card bill.  And unlike mail-in payments, electronic payments go through almost immediately.

If you want to make things even easier on yourself, you can even set up automatic, recurring payments.  One word of advice, though:  If you go the automatic-payment route with your credit card bill, make sure you still read your statement carefully each month anyway.  Automated services are great time-savers — but they won’t catch errors or fraudulent charges!
5)      If you must pay by check, pay close attention to the details.  I know that, for a variety of reasons, some folks still aren’t paying their bills online.  First, I’d like to mention again that I highly recommend making the switch to electronic payments – they’re faster, easier, and there’s no chance that your payment will get lost in the mail.

But if you still want to go old-school, here are a few suggestions:  Make sure your check is easy to read, and make sure that you sign it and write your account number on it.  This might sound like silly advice, but a small oversight like this can turn an on-time payment into a late one.

And finally, if you’re sending your payment by mail, it’s a good idea to send your payment at least a week before it’s due – this should give you a little wiggle room in the event of an unexpected delay.
6)      Down to the wire?  Phone it in.  You just cleaned off your kitchen counter – and were shocked and dismayed to find a credit card bill that’s due in exactly 24 hours.  What do you do?

Most credit card companies have some sort of instant phone payment option.  These services usually come with some sort of service charge – but it’s worth paying the extra cash to save your credit score (and the phone payment fee is almost certainly cheaper than the late fee you’ll be hit with otherwise).
7)      Already have a late fee?  Ask (nicely!) for forgiveness.  Everyone makes mistakes from time to time – and if you are a good customer who has never missed a payment, you might be able to talk your way out of a late charge:  Call the company’s billing department, and calmly and politely explain your situation.  Mention that you’ve never missed or been late on a payment before, and if you’ve been a customer for a very long time, mention that, too.  And of course:  be nice.  Yelling and cursing will get you nowhere fast.  If the person on the phone can’t help you, politely ask to speak to someone who can.  If you’re persistent and polite, you stand a fairly good chance of getting that late fee removed.

Keep in mind that this will probably only work if you’ve never been late on a payment before – if you’re always late, you won’t have much luck.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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