Credit card minimum payments: What you should know

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Credit cards have various terms and conditions, and one crucial one is the “minimum payment.” It’s the smallest amount you need to pay each month on your card balance. Paying at least this amount helps you steer clear of penalties and late fees when you can’t pay the full balance. It also maintains your account in good standing during tough financial times.

What is the minimum payment on a credit card?

The minimum payment on a credit card is the smallest amount you must pay each month. Paying this minimum on time helps you avoid extra fees, but if you carry a balance, you’ll still be charged interest.

To calculate the minimum payment, it’s usually based on your monthly statement balance. It could be a percentage of the balance, plus new interest and late fees, or a flat percentage of the total balance. Some minimum payments may also include past-due amounts.

How is a credit card minimum payment calculated?

The minimum payment on a credit card is calculated based on the current balance and the interest rate. It can change every month depending on how the balance, additional fees, and prior interest charges change. There are three main methods used to calculate the minimum payment:

  1. Percentage of balance: The card issuer takes a flat percentage of the cardholder’s total balance, often a few percentage points. So, if your balance is $1,000, and the rate is 3%, your minimum payment would be $30 ($1,000 x 3%).
  2. Percentage of balance plus interest/fees: In this method, the card issuer calculates a percentage of the balance, for example, 1%, and adds the interest or fees incurred during the previous month. So, if your balance is $1,000 and the interest and fees are $10, your minimum payment would be $20 ($1,000 x 1% + $10).
  3. Flat rate: Some card issuers set a fixed minimum payment, such as $35, regardless of your balance. If your balance is below this amount, you pay the entire balance, but if it’s higher, you pay the flat rate.

The minimum payment can vary each month based on your balance and the specific method your card issuer uses, so check your account’s terms and conditions to find out how yours is calculated. It can increase or decrease based on factors like your balance, interest rate, and any additional fees or charges.

You can usually find information about the minimum payment on your monthly credit card statement, either by mail or online.

Credit card minimum payment policy (Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi)

Credit card minimum payment policies can differ depending on the credit card issuer. Here are the minimum-payment policies for some major credit card issuers:

  • Bank of America: The minimum payment is the sum of past due amounts plus $35 or 1% of the new balance, whichever is greater. This amount also includes any interest charges and late fees.
  • Chase: For Chase credit cards, the minimum payment consists of past due amounts plus the greater of $40 or 1% of the new balance. It also includes periodic interest charges and any late fees billed on the statement for which your minimum payment is calculated.
  • Citi: Citi requires a minimum payment of $41 or 1% of the new balance, whichever is greater. If there are no past-due or over-limit amounts, this amount covers the principal balance and any accrued interest.
  • Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo’s minimum payment is either $25 or 1% of the new balance, whichever is greater. This minimum payment also includes any past due amounts, fees, and accrued interest.

It’s important to note that these policies can change, and the specific terms may vary by the type of credit card or individual agreement. Always check your credit card statement or contact your credit card issuer to understand your minimum payment requirements.

How long does it take to pay off a credit card making minimum payments?

Paying off a credit card by making only the minimum payments can be a very slow process. The time it takes to clear your credit card debt using this method depends on a few factors: your current balance, the minimum payment amount, and the card’s interest rate.

To get an idea of how long it might take, you can check your credit card statement for a “minimum payment warning.” This is a requirement under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. It provides information like:

  • How many months it will take to pay off the balance if you only make minimum payments. This gives you an estimate of the extended time frame required for repayment.
  • The total cost of making only minimum payments. It calculates the financial burden of this approach, taking into account the card’s current interest rate.
  • How much you should pay each month to clear the balance within 36 months. This is a more reasonable target, and it offers a clearer path to becoming debt-free.
  • The total interest charges if the balance is paid off within 36 months. This helps you understand the difference in interest costs between making minimum payments and a more aggressive repayment plan.

In summary, the time it takes to pay off a credit card making minimum payments depends on several factors, but it’s generally not the most efficient way to manage your debt due to its slow progress and higher overall costs.

Does the minimum payment on a credit card change?

The minimum payment on a credit card can change, and here are three scenarios that might affect it:

  1. Paying less or missing payments: If you pay less than the required minimum amount or miss a payment, you may incur a late fee. This fee is added to your balance, which is reflected in your next credit card statement. Some credit card issuers may increase your annual percentage rate (APR) or calculate higher future minimum payments if you miss a minimum payment. Late payments can also impact your credit score, especially if they are more than 30 days overdue, as lenders can report these late payments to credit bureaus.
  2. Paying only the minimum: Paying only the minimum payment keeps your account in good standing, even with a revolving balance. It helps you avoid late fees and penalties. However, continuing to make only the minimum payment while not using the card can lower your balance, resulting in less interest charged and lower minimum payments. But this strategy may cost you more in interest over time compared to paying more than the minimum.
  3. Paying more than the minimum: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends paying your entire balance each month if possible. If you can’t pay the full balance, making more than the minimum payment reduces your total card balance and limits interest charges. This approach can help you manage your debt and save on interest.

How is the minimum payment applied to the balance?

Credit card payments are usually applied to the balances on your card based on a specific order. If you have multiple types of balances, like purchases and balance transfers, the payment is applied to the balance with the highest interest rate first and then to the ones with lower rates.

For cardholders who don’t pay the full balance and only make the minimum payment, the payment is typically applied first to the interest charges, and then to the balance itself. This can lead to a troublesome situation where the minimum payments go entirely towards covering the interest, and the actual balance hardly decreases, causing the debt to grow.

To avoid this situation, it’s best to pay off your balance in full every month. If that’s not possible, try to pay more than the minimum. Also, refrain from making new charges on the card until the entire balance is paid off to prevent your debt from escalating.

How to lower the minimum payment on a credit card

To lower the minimum payment on a credit card, you can:

  • Pay more than the minimum: By consistently paying more than the required minimum amount each month, you’ll reduce the overall balance faster, which can lead to a lower minimum payment in the future.
  • Limit new purchases: Reducing the number of new purchases made on the credit card while continuing to make on-time payments can help prevent the minimum payment from increasing.
  • Debt reduction strategy: Implement a debt reduction strategy like the debt snowball or debt avalanche. These methods focus on paying off high-interest debt first, which can eventually lead to a lower minimum payment as the total balance decreases.
  • Create a budget: Develop a budget to identify areas where you can cut back on spending. Allocate the extra funds towards paying down the credit card balance, which can, over time, result in a reduced minimum payment.
  • Balance transfer: Consider transferring your credit card balance to a card with a low introductory Annual Percentage Rate (APR). This can temporarily lower your monthly payment. However, be aware that balance transfers may come with fees (often a percentage of the balance), and if there’s still an outstanding balance after the promotional period, the payment may increase depending on the new rate.

Remember, managing credit card debt effectively is crucial for your financial health. It’s essential to choose the strategy that aligns best with your financial situation and to be disciplined in making regular payments to reduce your credit card balance and, subsequently, your minimum payment.

What happens if I make only the minimum payment on my credit card?

Making only the minimum payment on your credit card is good for preventing late fees and maintaining your account in good standing. It helps during a financial emergency to save money in the short term. But as a long-term plan, it won’t significantly reduce your credit card debt and can lead to serious financial problems.

Paying down your debt will take much longer

When you have debt, like credit card balances, it can take a long time to pay it off. Credit card companies often set the minimum amount you must pay each month at very low levels.

This minimum payment is typically a fixed amount, such as $25, or a percentage of your outstanding balance, whichever is greater. In some cases, you may only be required to pay 1% or 2% of your balance, along with any fees and accrued interest. While making these small payments on time helps you avoid late fees, it doesn’t make significant progress in reducing your debt.

Read Also:  How to avoid late credit card payment fees

To understand the impact, check your credit card statement for a section called the “Minimum Payment Warning.” This section provides a table that shows how much money you’ll need and how many years it will take to pay off your balance if you only make the minimum payment each month. By paying only the minimum, you’ll notice that it will take a considerable amount of time to become debt-free.

However, you can significantly reduce this repayment period by paying more than the minimum. For instance, if you pay twice the minimum amount, you can cut the time it takes to pay off your debt in half. This insight is crucial for managing your debt and getting it under control. These requirements and disclosures are designed to help consumers understand the long-term consequences of only making minimum payments.

You’ll rack up bigger interest charges

When you make only the minimum payment on your credit card, you’re likely to accumulate larger interest charges. Unless you’re using a 0% APR card, the interest charges will increase as your card balance grows. Making just the minimum payment often covers only a small portion of the interest accrued in the previous month, leaving you with most of it still owed. If you continue to use the card for new purchases, you’ll fall further behind in paying off your existing debt.

In essence, this situation is like being on a “debt treadmill” where you keep making payments, but your debt never seems to decrease. To get an estimate of your interest charges, you can do a simple calculation: Divide your card’s annual percentage rate (APR) by 12 to find the monthly interest rate, then multiply it by your average balance.

For example, with a 21% APR, your monthly interest rate would be about 1.75%. If your balance is $10,000, you’d owe approximately $175 in interest the next month if you only made the minimum payment.

To reduce your debt more effectively, it’s advisable to pay more than the minimum amount each month, which will help you start the next month with a smaller debt balance.

Your credit scores could suffer

When you have high balances on your credit cards, it can harm your credit scores. This is because of something called your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of credit you’re using compared to your total available credit.

A high ratio means you’re using a lot of your available credit, which can lower your credit score. This, in turn, can make it more difficult to qualify for loans and credit cards with good terms. Additionally, it can even impact your ability to find a job or rent an apartment because employers and landlords often check applicants’ credit.

To maintain a good credit score, it’s recommended to use less than 30% of your credit limit on each card. If you can use even less, that’s even better.

If you find yourself running short of money at the end of the month, consider paying your credit card bill right after you get paid. If possible, take on extra work hours and use the additional earnings to reduce your debt. This will help you manage your credit and improve your financial situation.

If you can’t afford more than the minimum, ask for help

If you can only afford to pay the minimum amount on your debt, it’s a good idea because it prevents late fees and protects your credit score. Late payments can harm your credit. However, this should not be a long-term solution.

If your debt is more than half of your annual income, you can’t pay it off in five years, and it’s causing significant stress, you might want to think about bankruptcy. Talk to a bankruptcy attorney for advice. If you can manage to pay more than the minimum, it’s better to do so. Address your debt promptly instead of delaying it.

Why you should pay more than the minimum

Paying more than the minimum on your credit card is a smart move. When you only make the minimum payment, it may seem like a reasonable choice, but it’s better to pay extra. Here’s why: If you have a balance on your credit card, the credit card company charges you interest on that debt. When you stick to the minimum payment, those interest charges can accumulate fast.

To understand the true cost of making only the minimum payment on your credit cards, you can find a “Minimum Payment Warning” on your monthly credit card statement, which credit card issuers are required to include due to the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

This warning box informs you about how long it will take to pay off your debt if you make only the minimum payment, and it also reveals the total amount you’ll end up paying. This total is likely to be significantly higher than your current credit card balance. So, paying more than the minimum helps you save money in the long run.

Below is a simple breakdown of how long it can take to pay off a credit card balance and the interest that accumulates when making only the minimum monthly payments.

Imagine you have a credit card with a $1,000 balance and a 17 percent interest rate. The minimum payment is calculated as 1 percent of the balance plus any new interest that accrues.

Now, with only minimum payments, it typically takes a long time to clear this debt. The exact duration depends on factors like the card’s terms, but for illustration purposes:

MonthMinimum PaymentInterest PaidPrincipal PaidRemaining Balance
1$24.17$14.17$10.00$990.00
2$23.92$14.02$9.90$980.10
3$23.69$13.88$9.81$970.30
4$23.45$13.75$9.70$960.59
5$23.21$13.61$9.60$950.99
6$22.98$13.47$9.51$941.48
7$22.75$13.34$9.41$932.07
8$22.53$13.20$9.33$922.75
9$22.30$13.07$9.23$913.52
10$22.08$12.94$9.14$904.38
11$21.86$12.81$9.05$895.33
12$21.64$12.68$8.96$886.37

This example illustrates how long it takes to pay off a credit card balance and how much interest accumulates if you only make the minimum monthly payment. We’re working with a $1,000 balance and a 17 percent interest rate, where the minimum payment is 1 percent of the balance plus new interest.

In the first month, your minimum payment is $24.17. Of this, $14.17 goes towards interest, and $10.00 reduces the principal (the initial debt). Consequently, your remaining balance drops to $990.00. This pattern continues each month, with a decreasing balance and slightly lower interest payments.

After a year, you’ve paid $274.58 but only reduced your $1,000 balance by $113.63. If you continue making minimum payments, it will take over nine years to clear the debt, and you’ll pay $857.52 in interest. This shows how making minimum payments can be costly and time-consuming.

Tips for making your minimum payment

When you’re struggling to make your credit card’s minimum payment, here are some steps to consider:

  1. Review your budget: First, examine your household budget. Try to identify areas where you can cut back on spending. For example, you can save money by canceling some streaming services or reducing the frequency of takeout meals. These savings can then be allocated to cover your credit card’s minimum payment.
  2. Increase your income: If there’s no room left in your budget to make the minimum payment, explore ways to increase your income. You might explore side gigs or passive income opportunities. Additionally, updating your resume and seeking a higher-paying job can provide a more stable financial footing to address your credit card debt.
  3. Set up automatic minimum payments: To set up automatic minimum payments, you need to follow the specific procedure provided by your credit card issuer. It’s a convenient way to prevent missing payment due dates, but remember that the steps can differ depending on the card company. Learn more: Credit card autopayment explained
  4. Contact your credit card issuer: If you’re still unable to meet the minimum payment, reach out to your credit card company. Many of them have hardship programs tailored to assist individuals facing financial hardships. Contacting your issuer can lead to reduced minimum payment options or other forms of financial assistance, which can be especially helpful during tough times.

Credit card minimum payment FAQ

Learn more about credit card minimum payments with these frequently asked questions:

Is it possible to make multiple credit card payments in one month?

Yes, it is possible to make multiple credit card payments in one month. After you’ve made the minimum payment on time, you can make extra payments within the same month. These additional payments can help reduce your credit card balance more quickly and ultimately lower the amount of interest you’ll be charged over time.

Does making minimum payments affect credit reports and credit scores?

Yes, making minimum payments does affect credit reports and credit scores. Credit bureaus like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion create credit reports based on a person’s credit history, and this information is used to calculate credit scores. Lenders use these scores to make decisions about offering credit.

If you make even one late or missed payment, it can negatively impact both your credit scores and your credit reports. So, making on-time payments, even if they are just the minimum required payments, can be beneficial for your credit scores.

It’s also important to note that if you only make minimum payments, it may take longer to reduce your balance and lower your credit utilization ratio. The credit utilization ratio is the percentage of the total available credit you’re using, and it’s a crucial factor in determining credit scores. In general, having a lower credit utilization ratio is better, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends maintaining a credit utilization ratio of 30% or lower to demonstrate responsible credit usage to lenders.

What is the minimum payment on a $5,000 credit card balance?

The minimum payment on a $5,000 credit card balance is typically $50, although this can vary depending on the credit card issuer. In addition to the $50, you may need to pay any applicable fees, interest charges, and any past-due amounts.

If you missed a previous payment, the credit card company might also add a late fee to the standard minimum payment. It’s important to check your credit card’s terms and conditions for the exact formula used by your issuer to calculate the minimum payment.

Here are some examples of minimum payments by different credit card issuers:

  • American Express: $50
  • Bank of America: $50
  • Barclays: $50
  • Capital One: $50
  • Chase: $50
  • Citibank: $75
  • Credit One: $250
  • USAA: $50
  • U.S. Bank: $50
  • Wells Fargo: $50

Please note that these amounts do not include additional charges like interest and fees, which can be applied.

Some key points to remember about credit card minimum payments:

  • The minimum payment is the smallest amount you must pay by the due date to keep your account in good standing.
  • Late or missed payments not only increase your minimum payment but can also harm your credit score.
  • You can find your minimum payment listed on your monthly credit card statement and online account summary.
  • Credit card issuers are legally required to provide a chart on your credit card statement that shows how long it will take to pay off your balance by making only the minimum payment and how much that will cost you in interest charges.

The bottom line

Making the minimum payment on your credit card each month is essential to maintain a good account standing with the card issuer and prevent late fees. However, if you consistently pay only the minimum while still having an outstanding balance, it will take a long time to clear your credit card debt, especially if you keep making new purchases.

It’s wise to pay more than the minimum whenever you can. If you don’t, you’ll accumulate substantial interest charges, and your debt may linger much longer than you expect.