If you’ve fallen into the trap of credit card debt, you’re not alone. Credit card balances in America are nearing an eye-popping $1 trillion given the convenience of swiping.

Despite this troubling trend, credit card debt isn’t something you’ll want to stick your head in the sand about. Left to fester, credit card debt doesn’t go away, it only grows worse.

And if you’re wondering, “What happens if I stop paying my credit cards?” here’s a reality check: doing so will likely cost you more than you bargained for in the way of fees, higher APRs, and your financial future.

When you signed on that dotted line, you probably weren’t intending to sign your life away. But credit card debt has a way of becoming crippling, and ignoring it will only make matters worse.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to mitigate the aftermath that is unleashed when you stop paying credit cards.

Economic headwinds

Before you convince yourself the situation is entirely your fault, remember that racking up debt has become an epidemic in this country since Covid.

During the lockdowns, credit card balances shrank because pushed the pause button on spending. But the reopening of the economy was met with sky-high inflation and soaring interest rates—all of which made debt more expensive, including credit cards.

Don’t find out the hard way what happens if you stop paying credit cards, keep reading to learn about the consequences and what you can do to prevent them.

What happens when you stop paying credit cards

Each credit card issuer abides by its own fine print on how to handle accounts that have fallen behind or become delinquent. This usually includes a strategy to help bring a damaged account current.

Banks tend to follow a similar rulebook for what happens when you stop paying credit cards.

Late fees: The first thing that happens when you stop paying credit cards is you set the wheels in motion for delinquency, triggering a late fee in the ballpark of $30, often on the very first day after a payment is missed.

Once you haven’t made the minimum payment amount for 60 to 180 days, your account becomes further in arrears. Late fees may increase to slightly over $40 every time you miss a payment.

And, as your balance grows, over-the-limit fees could also apply.

Credit score; For the first few weeks, your late payment remains been between you and your creditor. But once you skip an entire payment cycle and your account becomes 30 days late, the credit agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—get involved.

At this stage, your bank will report your account’s delinquency escalation to the credit bureaus and the blemish will be appear on your credit report. Other potential creditors can see this negative information and your credit score will take a hit.

Then, every subsequent missed payment is reported to the credit bureaus, further damaging your credit profile and score.

APR: If you’ve been enjoying a promotional APR until now, once you’ve missed a single credit card payment, you might risk losing your eligibility for that low rate.

Meanwhile, the credit card issuer will continue to charge interest on the balance, and worse, the delinquency could trigger a much higher penalty APR that will further increase the cost of servicing your debt.

Collections: When you’ve reached the point of no return and your account is 180 days late, your credit card company will likely close your account and sell it to a collection agency.

Once you’ve been turned over to a collection agency, it’s more bad news for your credit score and could potentially open the door to legal action if you ignore the calls and continue not to pay.

By now you should understand that nothing good happens if you stop paying credit cards, including a lower credit score. This is likely to result in fewer loan options for you down the road.

Major lenders will likely deny you credit, leaving the door open for predatory lenders to enter the fray. The loans they offer will cost you more in the way of higher interest rates.

That may eventually translate to hundreds of dollars in the short term and thousands of dollars over the long term.

Communication is key

Now that you know what happens when you stop paying your credit cards, you probably want to avoid that mistake and its repercussions at all costs.

The first step toward debt recovery is communication with creditors, even though you may still be wondering, “What if I stop paying my credit cards?”

Your bank may be willing to work with you to find a solution, offering something like a hardship plan that will result in lower payments that are more affordable.

If that ship has sailed and you’ve already stopped paying credit cards, your strategy should be to stop the bleeding. Contact the credit card issuer and ask about possible fee forgiveness.

While it won’t take you off the hook entirely, it can bring your account back to current status faster and prevent things from going from bad to worse.

If you’ve been a paying customer until now, the bank might be more inclined to help.

Confront your debt rather than avoiding it

Your credit profile follows you around and affects your borrowing options.

Although major credit agencies hit the reset button every seven years, you may find that you need to borrow money sooner than that to purchase a car or a house.

That’s why confronting your debt and taking action is a much smarter thing to do than waiting to see what happens if you stop paying your credit cards.

As uncomfortable as it might be, it’s best to resolve this situation as soon as you can. Blowing off the bank or your credit card company will leave a lasting stain on your credit history.

The ball is in your court.