One of the more commonly misunderstood and misreported aspects of credit reporting is exactly when a late payment will show up on your credit report. And, taking it one step further, when a late payment will potentially harm your credit scores.
Safe to say, it’s complicated — because of the voluntary nature of the credit reporting environment.
First, there is nothing in the Fair Credit Reporting Act that requires any lender or credit card issuer to report anything about your accounts to any of the credit bureaus. They instead report information to the credit bureaus voluntarily. That’s why you’ll see examples from time to time when your accounts either don’t appear on one of your credit reports or don’t appear on all three of your credit reports.
When it comes to late payments, however, there is a little more structure. If a lender chooses to report your late payments to the credit bureaus, they cannot do so until you are a full 30 days past the due date. In fact, there is no systemic method to report an account as being one to 29 days past due.
Because the entire reporting system is voluntary, there are many scenarios where lenders choose to not report late payments until you’re several months past due. I often see credit reports that show a long chronology of on-time payments, and then all of a sudden a record of being 90 days late, or more.
This is often misinterpreted as incorrect credit reporting — because you can’t be on time one month and then be 60, 90, 120, or more days past due the next month. But what you have there is an example of a lender cutting the borrower some slack and choosing not to report the ascending level of late payments until it hits a level where the account is several months delinquent.
What About My Credit Score?
You may have read or heard people make claims like, “one late payment cannot harm your credit scores,” or “you have to be two payments late before your scores take a hit.” Both statements are factually inaccurate.
One late payment can absolutely harm your credit scores, and considerably — if the lender chooses to report the late payment. What is true, however, is that a late payment won’t show up until you’re 30 days late or more.
When it comes to late payments, the format used by the credit reporting agencies looks like this:
- 30-59 days late
- 60-89 days late
- 90-119 days late
- 120-149 days late
- 150-179 days late
- 180+ days late
What’s missing from those reporting options? What’s missing is anything that allows for the reporting of a late payment that’s between one and 29 days past due. It simply doesn’t exist. And that’s the real reason being a couple of weeks late won’t harm your credit scores — because it cannot show up on your credit reports.
Keep in mind, however, that the 30-day grace period you enjoy as it pertains to credit reporting only applies to credit reports. If you’re one day late, then your lender considers you late, period. And when you’re late, you normally have to pay a late fee and, when it comes to credit cards, interest on the unpaid balance.
Of course you won’t have to worry about late fees, additional interest charges, or the intricacies of credit reporting practices if you simply get in the habit of making all of your payments on time, every time.
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John Ulzheimer is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft. He has written four books on the topic and has been interviewed and quoted thousands of times over the past 10 years. With time spent at Equifax and FICO, Ulzheimer is the only credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has been an expert witness in over 230 credit related lawsuits and has been qualified to testify in both federal and state courts on the topic of consumer credit.