We’ve all felt the fear.  A credit card payment is coming up and you can’t pay it.  Panic sets in and you don’t know what to do.  Ignore it, reach out to the company, take a cash advance on another card, sell a kidney?  What is the best approach?

The first thing to know is that floating a payment on one card with a cash advance is a surefire recipe for disaster.   It’s the marijuana gateway drug to a full-blown heroin addiction.  Just don’t do it.  There’s no coming back from that type of credit card shifting.  You need a better alternative.

Putting your head in the sand, setting aside the unopened envelope is not that better alternative.  Nothing good comes from this either.  The company will call and call and eventually take action.  You don’t want that.   Let’s also take the kidney off the table.  There are less drastic options.

The best course of action is to head to the mouth of the beast and call your credit card company.  This accomplishes many things.  First, if you have any payment deferral insurance in place, it can be activated.  Also, there is a chance that company could allow a missed payment.  It’s not entirely common, but if your payment record is good, it can happen.

Here are the important things to know when you call.  Don’t give them any specific information.  Tell your story, but don’t provide specifics like your employer or asset information.  Also, don’t send in any supporting documents with personal information.  You want to communicate with the company, but you don’t want to give the company any information that could be used against you later.

Also important to know is that the goal of the representative you’re talking to is to get you to send in money.  Most representatives are ethical, but some go too far and can move into the realm of misinformation.  You have 30 days until a missed payment appears on your credit report.  Missing a payment or two will not trash your credit irreparably.  Credit card companies can’t garnish wages or take money out of your account without suing you and getting a judgment.  You absolutely can’t go to jail for failing to pay.

Once you’ve handled the immediate goal of communicating with the credit card company, you must look at the big picture, no matter how painful.  Is this a one-time event or is it reoccurring?  How much are you spending in minimum payments each month?  Using an online calculator, how long will your total credit card debt take to pay off?   Use this opportunity to get real with yourself.

If you see an ongoing problem, it’s time to get good counsel about your options.  Save yourself sleepless nights and stress-induced ulcers.  Financial struggle is not something to be ashamed of; it’s something to find good resources for.  Seek them out.  There are many people standing ready to help.

The guiding principle is that it never pays to put your head in the sand.  Communication and knowledge are key to bringing and keeping your finances healthy.

Emily Chase Smith is an attorney who specializes in debt solutions.    She herself has experienced the hardship of debt and has devoted her career to helping real families find real solutions.  You can find her at