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Many people don’t hesitate to pay just the minimum payment on their credit card. This is especially true if the total balance is high or the cardholder is confused about the credit card lending terms and doesn’t understand the impact of paying the minimum balance. But, making just the minimum payment can have a greater impact on your credit score than most people realize.
Learn how lenders calculate the minimum payment, what it means for your debt and how making a minimum payment affects your credit.
What are credit card minimum payments?
Your credit card minimum payment is the least amount of money your lender will accept toward your credit card balance each month. You need to pay the minimum payment by its due date to avoid late penalties and other fees and to keep a consistent payment history. The minimum payment amount is displayed on your credit card bill and often ranges from one to three percent of your total credit card bill.
How is a minimum payment calculated?
Your lender calculates the minimum payment based on your total balance and any outstanding interest charges.
Each credit card lender has a different method for calculating its minimum monthly payment. The two primary methods are formula and percentage.
Many of the major credit card lenders use a formula to calculate your minimum payment. The formula picks an amount and adds one to two percent of your monthly balance. For example, let’s say your lender picked $35 as the minimum payment amount, plus two percent interest, and you spent $500 in new charges for the month. In this scenario, your minimum payment would be $35 plus $10 ($500 x 2%) for a total of $45.
If your total balance is less than the minimum payment, then your whole balance is due. Following the previous example, if your lender charges $35 plus two percent interest but your credit card balance is $20, you will owe $20 for that month, plus any fees and interest from the previous month.
Other lenders—typically credit unions and financial institutions—use a simpler, percentage formula to calculate the minimum monthly payment. This method is most common for high-risk borrowers with poor credit. The percentage can range from four to six percent.
For example, if you had a $1,000 credit card balance with a lender that charges six percent, you would owe a minimum payment of $60 plus any additional fees ($1,000 x 6%).
Some lenders will include any past-due fees in the minimum payment.
What happens if you make only the minimum payment on your credit card?
Making the minimum payment on your credit card is better than paying nothing at all. As long as you always make the minimum payment, you should not receive negative items on your credit report, as it relates to your payment history.
However, making only the minimum payment means you may see greater charges for interest, resulting in you paying more over time.
Take a look at this example: Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt and your lender offers an 18 percent interest rate with a minimum payment of two percent of the balance. In this scenario, your minimum payment is $100 per month, which can look very tempting. But, it will take you almost eight years to pay off your balance and you will pay a total of $4,311 in interest—almost doubling what you originally owed.
Your minimum payment is generally a small portion of your total debt, and most of that payment goes to interest. As a result, you are slowly progressing toward paying off your principal amount, and you could end up paying minimum payments for many years.
Additionally, your credit card utilization may be high if you make only minimum payments. Credit utilization is the amount of credit extended to you by the lender versus the amount you owe. If you maintain a high credit card balance while only paying the minimum payment, you are at risk of having high credit utilization month after month.
Several factors determine your credit score, but credit utilization accounts for 30 percent of your overall score. So, maintaining a high utilization ratio can negatively impact your credit score.
Finally, when you maintain a high credit card balance and a routine of only paying the minimum payment, you may fall behind on payments. When you make late payments or miss the payment entirely, having a negative payment history can also lower your overall credit score.
What should you do if you can’t afford to pay in full?
If you can’t pay your credit card in full, don’t panic. Approximately 47 percent of Americans have credit card debt, so it’s quite common—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay off credit card debt. Follow the steps below to tackle your debt efficiently and in a way that works for you.
Pay as much as you can
As mentioned before, it’s essential to always make at least the minimum payment on time. This will help you avoid negative items on your credit report for late or missed payments. However, whenever possible, try to make more than the minimum payment. This will help you pay down your principal debt faster and pay less interest over time.
Come up with a repayment strategy
If you have multiple credit cards with debt or various types of debt, it’s crucial to have a repayment strategy.
There are two popular debt repayment strategies: the avalanche and the snowball. The snowball method recommends you pay off your debt from smallest to largest (like a growing snowball). This method is meant to give people positive reinforcement because they feel motivated as they knock out several of their small debts quickly before moving on to the larger debts.
The avalanche method is a more systematic approach—you list all your debts and their interest rates and pay the one with the highest interest rate first. This method aims to save you money in the long run by getting of higher-interest debt first.
Decide which approach fits your style. Both of these methods are highly effective in their own way.
A budget is the first step to taking control of your financial health. Without a budget, you may not know where your money is going or where you can save. Often, a budget can highlight unnecessary spending. There are plenty of free apps, such as Mint, that allow you to have an automated look at all your spending and build a budget.
Talk to your credit card issuer
You can reach out to your credit card issuer if you’re going through financial hardship to see what they can do for you. Some credit lenders will offer to lower your interest rates, which will help you tackle your principal debt much faster. Some financial hardships can include the loss of a job, an injury or a medical incident. Ultimately it will be your lender that decides if your situation merits help.
Consider a balance transfer
There are a lot of credit card options out there. If your credit card has a high-interest rate, you may consider a balance transfer. Some credit card lenders offer a low-interest promotional rate when you transfer a credit balance to them. During this time, you can make a significant dent in your debt. However, you should know that some balance transfers come with a one-time fee, so make sure to consider this as well.
Care for your credit
Your credit is your door to many financial opportunities. A healthy credit score can help your chances for approval for auto leases, mortgages, personal loans and more. It can also help you get a much lower interest rate and better borrowing terms when you receive financial products.
Improving your credit takes work. While focusing on your credit card’s impact on your credit score, make sure your overall credit profile is accurate. Errors and inaccuracies can greatly hurt your credit score and put a dent in your debt-relief goals. Professional credit repair companies can help you navigate the challenges of credit reporting inaccuracies.
The first step toward establishing a healthy credit history is making sure all items are listed fairly and accurately—professional credit repair is an easy, effective way to get your credit score back on track.
Reviewed by Shana Dawson Fish, Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.
Shana Dawson Fish is an Arizona native whose family migrated from Guyana. Shana graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice & Criminology, and in 2012 she graduated from Arizona Summit Law School earning her Juris Doctor. During law school, Shana was a Judicial Intern at the United States District Court for the District of Arizona and the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 2016, Shana was awarded a legal defense contract and represented clients as a Trial Attorney in juvenile proceedings. Shana has experience in litigating numerous trials and diligently pursuing the rights of her clients. As a Trial Attorney, Shana identified the needs of her clients and also represented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. Shana is licensed to practice in Arizona and is an Associate Attorney in the Phoenix office.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.