Monthly bills come like clockwork. But if you’re dealing with a loss of income or other financial setback, you may find yourself unable to make a payment on time. While this can be a scary reality — so much that it can be tempting to avoid thinking about the topic all together — there are some steps you can take to stay in control. Here’s what to do when you miss a bill payment.

BE UPFRONT

Whether it’s a credit card bill, loan payment or even a utility bill, reach out to your lender as soon as you know you’re not going to be able to make a payment on time. If you proactively let your lender know about your situation, they may be willing to work with you.

WORK WITH YOUR LENDER

After you’ve informed your lender about your missed payment, you’ll want to work with them to see what your options are. They may be willing to extend your due date, waive any late fees, or reduce or suspend your payments for a certain period of time. Be sure to confirm all details and ask about any penalties you might incur.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU’RE UNABLE TO MAKE A PAYMENT?

If you can’t make any payment or your lender isn’t willing to give a grace period, what happens next will depend on the creditor and how late the payment is.

If you make a payment within 30 days after the original due date, you may be charged a late fee or start to accrue interest. Once your payment is more than 30 days overdue, your credit score could begin to take a hit, especially if your creditor reports the missed payment to one of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax). If you still haven’t paid your bill after 120 days, your creditor can send your debt to a debt collection agency, which will then attempt to collect payment from you. Depending on the debt, at some point you could face eviction, car repossession or utility shut-off (note that there may be a moratorium on these actions during the pandemic).

HOW TO AVOID MISSING FUTURE PAYMENTS

When you’ve missed paying a bill, the last thing you want to do is continue the cycle. While setting up automatic payments can help, having a financial plan in place is even better. Why? With the help of a financial advisor, you can work to build an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of savings so you’ll always be prepared for the unexpected. An advisor can also help you put together a budget and prioritize your spending to ensure you’re able to make your payments on time moving forward.

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