NEW YORK (MainStreet) About a quarter of adults in the U.S. or nearly 56 million Americans do not pay their bills on time, according to the 2014 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey of Adults.
The rate has declined to 24% of Americans in 2014, compared to 26% in 2013 and 33% or over 77 million Americans in 2012 who were delinquent in paying their bills on time, according to the survey, which was prepared for The National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
"You miss one payment and it has an impact on your credit score since 35% of your credit score is based on your payment history," said Jeff Golding, CEO of WilliamPaid, a Chicago-based company that allows people to build credit through paying their rent online for free. "Your income has nothing to do with your credit score."
Having a healthy credit score may be the most important thing you can do financially since repairing damages can take time. Establishing a strong and high FICO score means you can receive the lowest interest rates on loans and obtain higher quality credit cards.
Your credit score is examined by various lenders when you try to obtain debt from a credit card company or purchase a house or car. Most lenders use the FICO score to assess your credit, the amount of money you can borrow and the amount of interest you will pay. Having a strong and high FICO score means you can receive the lowest interest rates on loans and obtain higher quality credit cards.
The three credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax - track consumers' credit history and determine a score based on their ability to maintain and pay debts on time.
Many consumers are still lacking knowledge about various aspects about personal finance with 41% of the respondents who gave themselves an average or failing grade in the survey.
"It is good that Americans recognize their personal finance knowledge deficit, but considering all of the tools available to them, it is surprising that they resist taking advantage of the opportunities to improve their financial skills," said Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
The survey also found that 61% of consumers, the highest number in six years, admit to not having a budget and one in three adults indicate that their household carries credit card debt from month-to-month. A staggering 35 million people revolve more than $2,500 of debt monthly.
"Such behaviors are red flags that should be heeded sooner rather than later, before the situation gets out of control," she said.
Missing payments has serious consequences for consumers, said Michael Cleary, group executive vice president of consumer banking for RBS Citizens Financial Group based in Providence, Rhode Island.
"Consumers should take advantage of the tools available to them to help pay bills on-time," he said. "Technology has made it easier. People can now use their mobile devices to quickly make a payment anytime, anywhere or set up online bill pay through a bank account so that payments are made automatically on specific days each month. Consumers can also set up e-bills and get alerts when bills are due."
When consumers lack the funds to pay their bills they can simply shift the due date to align with monthly paychecks, Cleary said.
Not paying bills on-time has both short and long-term consequences that impact a consumer's ability to borrow money in the future. The most immediate consequence is incurring late fees, which can add up over time and increase your debt obligation and lengthen the time it takes to pay off bills in full.
Late payments can also affect a consumer's credit score. If a bill is 90 days or more late, there can be a measurable impact on your credit and the information remains on your credit report for seven years.
"Poor credit scores hurt your chances of securing loans and other financing in the future," he said.
Consumers who can not avoid making late payments should instead discuss with their utility company or medical institution the possibility of establishing a reduced monthly payment or payment plan.
"This is far better than avoiding the bill and incurring more fees and long-term damage to your credit," Cleary said.
Since studies show that people of all ages lack basic money skills, regardless of their income level, there is a significant need to make financial literacy information clear, simple and easy to access, he said. RBS Citizens Financial Group established a new financial literacy program called Citizens Helping Citizens Manage Money program which gives consumers and small businesses the resources they need to budget, save, invest and be fiscally healthy. The bank is also awarding $1.5 million in grants to nonprofits promoting financial education.
"I encourage consumers to take advantage of online tools and resources such as budget planners, cost of debit and savings calculators to help them manage their finances," he said.
--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet