Paying your bills on time is the most important thing you can do to build and maintain good credit scores.

If you do have a mishap and pay one of your accounts late, that “past due 30 days” notation will remain on your credit report for seven years. The seven-year period begins from the original delinquency date.

If you have kept this account open, seven years from the original delinquency date that late payment will be removed. If the account is paid off and closed, the entire account will be removed seven years from the date of that missed payment, or original the delinquency date.

Here’s how late payments affect your credit scores. Even one missed payment could have a negative impact on your credit scores initially, which is why it’s so important to pay at least the minimum payment on your loans and credit cards every month. The good news is, if you did pay late, the impact to your credit scores will diminish over time.

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The most important thing to do if you miss a payment is to make a payment to get the account current, then continue to make at least minimum payments on time. It can help to set up an automatic payment for the minimum amount due on or before the due date to make sure you are never late on that account again.

Then, pay as much of your account balance as you can afford every month, to pay down your balance. Paying only minimum payments every month will not help you pay off debt. Read more here about why you should pay more than your monthly credit card minimum.