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Missing a loan or credit card payment is one of the worst things you can do to your credit score. It not only has the greatest impact on your credit score, your payment history is also easily tarnished and takes a long time to rehabilitate — a single late payment could cost you dozens of (even 100!) points. Once you miss the payment, there’s pretty much nothing you can do but wait for it to age off your credit reports, which can take years.

Even if you’ve made up for it by paying your past-due balance, the late payment can stay on your credit report for up to seven years (a late payment is a payment that’s at least 30 days past due and has been reported by your lender to the credit bureaus). Unfortunately, the majority of college students aren’t aware of this: 61% of those surveyed for a U.S. Bank report on students and personal finance said they believe that “once a delinquent loan, credit card balance or bill is paid off it is removed from one’s credit report.” That’s not true.

The good news is as the delinquency gets older, it has less of an effect on your credit score, and if the missed payment was really a one-time mistake, it won’t hurt you for very long. It’s a pattern of being unreliable that will really trash your credit. Some credit cards (for example, the Discover it) will even forgive your first late payment fee as a feature of the card. Still, don’t underestimate the impact a single late payment can have on your credit score, especially if you have very good credit to begin with. As with many aspects of credit, there’s no short-term remedy to the damage caused by late payments, other than to be patient and focus on other factors that influence your credit standing, like your credit card balances relative to your credit card limits and how often you apply for new credit.

One of the best things you can do to improve your credit is see where it stands right now so you can track your progress. You can get your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, from Credit.com, and you’ll see which areas of your credit profile need work, whether that’s your payment history, debt load or something else.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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  • dd

    great article. PHEAA used to be more flexible on missed payments. The Loan Rehab program has changed. They used to be able to delete all the negative missed payments after making 7-12 monthly payments at time. I had issues in 2007 but was able to correct them through Loan Rehab. I then missed a few payments in 2013 and because i had 3 loans, I took a major hit on my credit report. It took about a year for improvement and 2 years later, Im finally back to where I was.

    It is much better to get a a deferment or forebearance than to miss a payment. I battled AES Credit, and also complained to the CFPB, and every credit agency. This was the only battle i have ever lost. I urge people to not miss a payment and call your loan provider if you cant make a payment.

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