Home > 2015 > Personal Finance

The Weirdest Excuses People Give for Not Paying Their Bills on Time

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance asked me about my job, and upon hearing that I write about budgets and credit cards (and such), she had something she wanted to share. She doesn’t like to pay her credit card bills on time, she told me, because it makes her nervous to see her bank balance dip so low afterward.

People tell me random tidbits about their finances all the time, and I know she’s not alone in doing things with her money she knows she shouldn’t. Others are misinformed about things that will help or hurt their credit or overall financial health, which is probably a much bigger problem than people who go out of their way to justify poor habits.

Inspired by this interaction, I asked several people who work in personal finance to share the strange excuses they’ve heard from people when explaining why they can’t or won’t pay their bills on time.

Fear of a Low Balance

There are millions of Americans who legitimately can’t afford their bills, but there’s a difference between not having enough money in your bank account and not wanting to see the balance get smaller after you’ve paid a bill. You may have to pay a fee if your account balance drops below a certain level, and you should avoid that if you can, but skipping a bill could be much more costly. Late fees will add up, and if you forget to make a payment, your credit score will suffer. (You can see how late payments are affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

No one likes seeing their bank accounts shrink, but if you’re tracking your spending, keeping to a budget and monitoring your accounts for unauthorized activity, you shouldn’t have to worry about account fluctuations. That’s just how the cycle of getting paid and paying bills works.

The Myth of the Credit-Building Balance

This is one most credit experts have heard: Carrying a balance on your credit card will help you build credit.

When using a credit card, the two best things you can do for your credit are pay your bill on time and use a small portion of your available credit (generally less than 30% of your limit, but an even lower credit utilization rate is better). Whether you carry a balance from month to month has no direct impact on your credit score.

However, if you’re carrying a balance and continue to add to it, either with new purchases or with the interest the balance accrues, you could hurt your credit utilization rate and end up hurting your credit. If you can, it’s a good idea to pay your balance on time and in full every month.

The Bill Protester

Sometimes people just don’t know what they’re getting into when they use credit cards, so when they get a bill they think doesn’t reflect their spending, they balk.

“We run into some people who, regarding credit cards, won’t pay because they’re angry with the high interest rates or they’re angry about the fees,” said John Szalicki of Cambridge Credit Counseling. These people think they’re taking a stand against the credit card company by refusing to pay. “We tell them it doesn’t work like that.”

Some consumers take a similar approach with other financial obligations as well, “protesting” by not paying parking tickets, refusing to pay the utility company they think billed them incorrectly, ignoring payments for student loans taken out for a degree they never earned, and so on. That tactic usually wrecks consumers’ credit, by way of collection accounts and sometimes lawsuits, in addition to costing more with late fees and collection fees.

There are avenues for resolving billing errors, and while they’re often time-consuming or frustrating, using them is a better idea than doing nothing.

Credit Card Confusion

Szalicki said he has also seen consumers who don’t understand how interest, finance charges or promotional offers through credit cards work, leaving them stunned and unable to afford the credit card bills they receive.

If you’re using a credit card, you need to know if it has an annual fee, what the interest rate is and what you as a cardholder have to do to hold up your end of the agreement. Otherwise, you could find yourself owing more than you thought.

Prioritization Problems

This is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to excuses for not paying the bills. Thomas Nitzsche of ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions asked counselors to share some of the most notable excuses they’ve heard from clients for not being able to pay their bills.

“One client said that doggie daycare was the reason she couldn’t pay her bills,” Nitzsche said. The consumer’s veterinarian had recommended daycare three times a week to socialize the dog, and at $50 a day, the costs added up very quickly. It wasn’t something the consumer wanted to give up, despite not being able to afford it.

Deciding what to cut out of a tight budget is difficult, and everyone will prioritize differently, but it’s hard to not shake my head at some of the stories Nitzsche shared with me.

There was the family that spent roughly $7,600 each year on trips to Disney World, and despite being in unaffordable credit card debt, they weren’t willing to stop making the trips. These vacations were their family time, which they wanted to continue doing until their kids got too old for it.

Then there was a couple who prioritized their car payments because without the cars, they couldn’t get to work and make the money they need for everything. That’s a fair point, but two months before entering credit counseling, the couple had taken on two new car payments, adding up to several hundred dollars a month. The car payments cost more than their mortgage payment. It was a clear case of wants overtaking needs, Nitzsche said.

Parents making sacrifices for their kids was a common theme, but it seemed people struggled to see the difference between making sacrifices and risking financial ruin for the sake of their children (i.e. falling behind on bills or mortgage payments so the kids could go to private school).

My favorite from Nitzsche’s collection of anecdotes was the binge-before-purge method: “‘I didn’t pay the bills in December because I wanted to have one last good Christmas before I tackle the bills in January.’ … We always see an uptick in January and February of people who put their heads in the sand in December,” Nitzsche said.

All that does is make the road to recovery more challenging, in terms of rebuilding your credit and getting your finances in shape. It may feel good in the moment, but as it is with most excuses, you’ll kick yourself later.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team