Being late is going to cost you, big time.

With credit card late fees at $39, this is no time to be the least bit tardy with your card payment.

1. Mind those payment rules

One of the most important things you can do is follow your card issuer’s payment guidelines precisely. These guidelines are outlined on the back of each credit card bill.

When it comes to processing credit card payments, all these little details are incredibly important.

Payment guidelines may include everything from a specific payment address to the time of day by which the payment must be received to be credited that day. Many issuers also stipulate that payments must arrive in the preprinted envelope sent to the customer.

While the Fair Credit Billing Act requires issuers to credit payments the day they are received, each issuer is allowed to set specific payment guidelines. If any of the guidelines are not met, the issuer can take as many as five days to credit the payment.

An on-time payment could easily become “late” during that five-day period, so follow those payment guidelines carefully.

To ensure your payment gets credited immediately:

  • Use the preprinted envelope provided by the credit card company.
  • Include the billing coupon, and be sure to write the amount being paid in the box provided.
  • Make sure checks are legible and the payment amount is correct. Sign the check. Write the credit card account number on the check.
  • Send payment with proper postage to the payment address requested by the issuer. It’s a good idea to mail your payment at least one week in advance of the due date. Ten days to two weeks prior to a due date is even better.
Avoid late fees
These payment tips and strategies from will show you how to steer clear of those monster late fees.
7 ways to avoid late fees
  1. Follow payment guidelines.
  2. Pay minimum immediately.
  3. Change your due date.
  4. Set up automatic online, on-time payments.
  5. Pay by phone.
  6. Express mail or wire payment.
  7. Good payers can ask for waiver.

2. Pay minimum immediately

The safest strategy for anyone sending a card payment by snail mail is to pay the bill as soon as it arrives, even if you can only make the minimum payment. Giving your issuer the 2 percent minimum payment it wants ASAP is a great way to guard against late fees. And you can always send a bigger payment when you’ve got more cash.

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.