Late credit card payments don't have to cost you

Realizing you missed the deadline to pay a credit card bill is one of the more exasperating aspects of personal finance. The oversight may result in a late-payment fee that could leave you on the hook for $25, $35 or more.

But strategies for fighting back are available, including one little-used trick: asking the card issuer to waive the fee. According to a report by CreditCards.com, the vast majority (89 percent) of cardholders who asked a bank or finance company to waive a late-payment fee were granted the request. But only one in five cardholders have tried this gambit.

Consumers should understand that they're more empowered to negotiate with their credit card company than they think they are, said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst.

"The worst that can happen is they say, 'no.' But most of the time, they say, 'yes,'" said Schulz, noting that the competitive credit card marketplace has pushed issuers to be more flexible.

And that flexibility also includes the interest rate associated with any balance carried month to month. CreditCards.com's survey found that 78 percent of consumers who requested a lower interest rate received one.

CreditCards.com also found success rates for requesting a lower rate are better now than in 2014. Cardholders today are 13 percentage points more likely to score a lower interest rate and 3 percentage points more likely to have a late fee removed. Another surprising finding was that annual household income wasn't much of a factor in banks' decisions on these matters.

The survey also found that millennials have an 84 percent success rate when requesting a late fee waiver, but just 36 percent succeeded when they asked for a lower interest rate, significantly lower than other age groups.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers these tips on using a credit card wisely:

1. Pay your bills on time. And do so every time. One way to make sure your payments are timely is to set up automatic payments. But you have to watch your bank balance to make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the automatic payments. Also, if you can afford to pay more than the minimum amount, you can pay off your debt quicker. Keep in mind that people with the best credit scores usually are those who pay off their credit cards in full every month.

2. Don't get too close to your credit limit. Credit-scoring models look at how near you are to being "maxed out" because the formulas predict that people who are using too much of their available credit may have future trouble with repayment. If you use too much of your total credit lines, you can hurt your credit score. Experts advise keeping your use of credit at no more than 30 percent or less of your total credit limit.

3. Get your free credit report every year. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies. You can receive a free credit report from each reporting company once every 12 months. By requesting the reports at the same time, you can determine whether any of your files have errors. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit files more frequently throughout the year.

4. Read your credit report and dispute any errors. Identity theft and fraud are on the rise, so it's important to check your credit report and dispute any errors immediately. If you find something wrong, write to both the consumer reporting agency and the creditor that provided the information, if applicable, to tell them what you think is wrong and why. Include copies of any documents that support your position. When a consumer disputes credit report information, the agency and the creditor generally have to investigate the dispute and correct inaccurate information. Here's more information on how to submit a dispute.

5. Avoid paying upfront fees to "repair" your negative credit history. Many places promise to "repair" or "fix" your credit for an upfront fee, but no one can remove negative information, such as late payments, from a credit report if it's accurate. You can get your credit report fixed only if it contains errors, and you can do that on your own.

6. Be proactive. First, it's important that you act right away. You don't need to be behind on your payments to ask for help, and many creditors may be willing to assist you if you're facing a financial emergency.