credit cards

How to avoid late fees

3. Move your due date

Are your credit card bills due at a time of the month when you're running low on cash? Many card issuers will let you set your own due date -- if you ask. Why not time it so your credit card bill arrives right after a paycheck? That way you'll have plenty of cash to pay your bill each month.

4. Automatic online, on-time payments

Paying bills online can be a great buffer against late fees. Most major issuers, including Citibank, MBNA, Discover and American Express accept online payments. You can sign up for these services on issuer Web sites. Choose an online payment amount that automatically covers the minimum amount due on a credit card each month. Next, choose an automatic payment date well in advance of your credit card due date. This is a great way to pay credit card bills while traveling. To keep your interest costs down, you'll want to make additional card payments online or by snail mail as soon as you can.

5. Pay by phone

Paying by phone is a quick and easy way to make a last-minute card payment. Just grab your checkbook and call the toll-free number on the back of your credit card. You'll be asked for a check number and the bank routing number, which is printed at the bottom of every check. After you're done with the call, rip up the check because you won't be able to use it again. Many credit card companies accept payments by phone. Some issuers charge fees, ranging from $7.50 to $25 for this service. Be sure to ask.

6. More express options

If the due date is looming, consider sending a credit card payment by express mail or wiring the payment with Western Union. The U.S. Postal Service charges $13.65 for an express mail flat rate envelope, which guarantees next-day delivery by noon to most destinations. Wiring your payment will cost you as well. Western Union's fees for money-wiring service vary depending upon the amount of payment. These express services, while costly, are still cheaper than most credit card late fees. Make sure you send your express payment to the proper address. Many issuers have separate payment addresses for express payments. The last thing you want to do is slow the processing of an express payment by sending it to the wrong address.

7. No fee if you're "good"

Zapped with a late fee even though you mailed your payment well before the due date? Call and ask your issuer to waive the fee. Many issuers will waive late fees as a courtesy to customers with good payment records.

Smaller card issuers

If all these fee-dodging strategies are too much for you, you may want to consider getting a card from a credit union or a local community bank. Smaller card issuers are much more lenient when it comes to penalty fees.

Late fees at community banks range from $15 to $30. Community banks are more likely than conventional banks to waive late fees for their customers under special circumstances, such as job loss.

Credit unions give card customers some leeway as well. Generally, a credit union will accept a card payment 14 days after a due date without penalty. And if a credit union should charge you a late fee, it will only be $15 on average.

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