credit cards

Changing the due date on your credit card

If you're like a lot of people, your monthly bills lack balance. They are weighted toward the beginning or middle of the month, making it tough to scrape together enough money to pay all the bills.

It's probably worst at the beginning of the month, when you have a hefty mortgage or rent payment and maybe a car payment and a credit card bill or two. Then, in the middle of the month, your bills don't total nearly as much.

A balancing act

Why not move your bills around, so they're not so heavy one part of the month and so light at another? Some issuers will allow you to balance out your monthly payments by changing the due dates on your credit cards. All you have to do is call the customer service number on the bill and ask.

Just make sure that you pay your bills on time while the changes take effect. Don't expect this to be a quick fix for a cash-flow crunch. It takes a billing cycle, and sometimes two, before the date change takes effect. Meantime, you have to observe your due dates before the change takes effect, or you'll risk late-payment charges and possibly an unfriendly notation on your credit report.

I know how this works firsthand because most of my credit card bills became due between the first and 15th of the month. This made it hard to pay the bills because my mortgage payment was due at the same time. After the mortgage payment took a huge chunk out of the checkbook balance, I would have trouble paying the credit card bills.

Different cards, different rules

I called two card issuers and got different results. MBNA, the issuer of my MasterCard, allowed me to choose the payment due date no questions asked. I pushed back the due date from the seventh to the 18th, allowing me to pay the bill in the middle of the month, when my only major bill was a car payment.

American Express, though, was inflexible. I couldn't move the due date, but the customer service representative told me that Amex's due date is only a recommendation. As long as the company receives payment before the next month's closing date, it's not considered late. That gives customers almost a month-long grace period -- enough time to pay when it's convenient to the cardholder.

If you carry a balance on your card, pushing the due date back a few days could cost you a little more on your next bill, because finance charges will continue to accrue. In other words, if you push back your due date by 10 days, you might have to pay 40 days' worth of finance charges on your next bill instead of 30 days' worth.

But at least you might have enough in your checking account to pay your credit card bill.

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