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Living with credit, Protecting yourself

How a call to my card issuer saved me nearly $300 in interest

Karen Queen

A good credit card payment history, automatic bill pay and a 1 a.m. phone call saved me nearly $300 in interest.

Here’s what happened: I had my first, five-digit credit card bill after putting my daughter’s college tuition on my card. My plan was to pay the entire $10,500 bill, as my family has always been among the nearly

I had my first, five-digit credit card bill after putting my daughter’s college tuition on my card. My plan was to pay the entire $10,500 bill, as my family has always been among the 40 percent of active credit card users who pay their balances in full each month.

Then because of a death in the family, the whopper of a bill completely slipped my mind. I woke up in a panic at 1 a.m. the day after it was due.

My credit card issuer, like most issuers, is staffed 24/7 and allows phone payments at no extra charge. I shook off my drowsiness, picked up the phone, put on my best manners and crossed my fingers.

The customer service rep took my phone payment for the full amount due. I asked about interest, and he said normally I’d be charged two months of interest for carrying a balance for two billing cycles.

For my bill and interest rate, that would have totaled $284. Yikes. I asked the rep if he could waive the interest owed.

“Can I place you on a brief hold?” the rep said. When the rep came back on the line, he said he could wipe out the interest charge.

Here’s what saved me:

I had just signed up for automatic bill payment for the minimum due on the card, and that kicked in with this billing cycle. That kept me from owing a late fee at least and meant my minimum payment wasn’t past due.

Also, even before the autopay, I had a good payment history. Every bill had been paid on time and in full. That was a big plus in my favor when I called at what was technically only one hour into the day after the bill was due.

Most important of all, though, was that I called. A 2016 CreditCards.com survey found that most cardholders who ask get late fees waived and interest rates reduced.

Since that late-night phone call, I’ve learned a few things about credit cards and late fees:

Some credit cards waive the first late fee, and one of my other credit cards doesn’t charge a late fee until the bill is four days late.

At least one card, Citi Simplicity, never charges a late fee. (If I were an unrepentant late payer, I’d opt for a card that let me off the hook every time.)

Late bills cause me to lose sleep and worry about my credit score. I’m sure I’m not alone. Moving forward, I plan to maintain a good payment history (the biggest factor in your credit score) in case I slip up again.

I also plan to idiot-proof, I mean automate, more of my bills to prevent simply forgetting to pay a bill. I’ve since put all of my credit cards on autopay.

For me, any steps I can take now to make sure I pay my bills on time will help me rest easier – and maybe avoid any future 1 a.m. calls to my card issuer.

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