6 Steps to Avoid Late Fees on Your Credit Card Bill -- Forever!

Filing paperwork is as fun as calculating your taxes, but blowing off this very adult task can lead to hundreds of dollars in late fees, interest charges and even identity theft.

Think about it. If you were to miss one credit card bill, you'd owe as much as $39 in late fees, plus God knows how much penalty APRs. If repeated each month, the late fee alone would add up to $468 a year!

Consider the other late fees and interest charges you are on the hook for: your car payment, your mortgage or rent, insurance, library books, cell phone, taxes, utility bills and so on.

Aside from fees, paying late on credit cards and other bills can damage your credit score, which means lower quality loans (with higher interest rates) in your future. If you are behind, here's how to get out of a late fee. Generally, the longer your bill is overdue, the greater impact it has on your score. A poor credit report can also hurt your job prospects.

All of this is why I developed a two-part system that requires me to get cozy with my file cabinet only twice a year. Here's how I avoid late fees and barely touch my paperwork.

1. I set up auto pay online for as many bills as I can. The fewer bills I have to hunt down for payment, the fewer missed bills -- and late fees -- I'll have to endure.

2. I receive e-statements for as many accounts as possible. This not only ensures that my bills won't get lost in the mail, it also serves as a digital reminder of which bills are due in my daily inbox.

3. At least once a week I open all my mail, recycling as much as safely possible. Anything with my full name or address goes directly into a massive "to be shredded" box. Bank statements, health records and bills slide into my "to file" folder.

4. When I can't cram another thing into my "to file" folder, I procrastinate for another month until I really can't shove another thing in there.

5. I divide my "to file" papers into piles on my bed or floor. One pile for credit card statements, another for health records, yet another for bank statements until everything is grouped appropriately. Then I pick up a pile, open my file cabinet and shove it into the corresponding folder. Occasionally, I'll start a new folder in my file cabinet.

6. I request my free credit report once a year. Did you know that only 4% of consumers take advantage of a law that gives you free access to your credit report? This way I can check up to make sure I haven't accidentally leaked my info or been taken advantage of.

For a truly free credit report with no monthly fees, use annualcreditreport.com, which you can access your credit creport twice per year.

Voila! In less than an hour, all my important papers are tucked away and I'm better protected from the harmful financial impacts of missing a credit card payment or paying late on other important bills. 

Julia Scott writes the money and coupon blog BargainBabe.com. She just emptied her to-file folder and is avoiding her file cabinet for another six months.

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