Why I Pay Off My Credit Card Bill (Way) Early

Filed Under: Credit Cards

In this post I wanted to share what I consider to be the easiest trick to boosting your credit score with very little effort — that’s to pay off all (or most) of your credit card balance not just before the due date, but rather before the statement even closes. Let me explain.

What factors impact your credit score?

Having a great credit score is important, not just for maximizing credit card rewards, but for so many things in life. There’s often confusion about how various actions — like applying for credit cards or closing credit card accounts — impact your credit score.

Here are the general factors that make up your credit score:

  • 35% of your score is your payment history (the percentage of payments you’ve made on-time)
  • 30% of your score is your credit utilization (how much credit you’re using compared to your total limits)
  • 15% of your score is your credit age (the average age of your open accounts)
  • 10% of your score is the types of credit you use (how many different types of requests for credit you have)
  • 10% of your score is your requests for new credit (how many times you’ve applied for credit)

Breakdown of how your credit score is calculated

For the purposes of this post, let’s focus on the two biggest aspects of your credit score that you can easily control:

  • Maintaining a perfect payment history should be easy — just always pay off your balance before the due date
  • Keeping your credit utilization low is something you can easily control, and that’s what I wanted to focus on in this post

What is credit utilization?

Credit utilization is the amount of your available credit that you’re using. For example, say that you have a credit card with $10,000 in available credit, and you spend $3,000 during a billing period. Your credit utilization would be 30%, since you’re using $3,000 of your available $10,000 credit line. Generally it’s recommended that you don’t utilize more than 30% of your available credit.

Why do card issuers care about credit utilization? Because it’s viewed as a good indicator of how fiscally responsible and high risk you are as a customer.

For example, if you’re utilizing 90% of your credit every month and then apply for a new credit card, an issuer might assume that you’re higher risk, since you’re using most of the credit you’re being given. If you are given even more credit, will you be able to use it responsibly?

Meanwhile if you utilize only a small percentage of your credit, it shows that you can manage your credit well, and you likely won’t have an issue if you’re extended even more credit.

Pay off your balance before the statement closes

Let me cut to the chase — I pay off a vast majority of my credit card bills before the statement even closes. Yes, I’m talking about the statement close date, which is often a few weeks before your payment is even due.

The statement closing date is on the left, the payment due date is in the middle

That’s a major factor that contributes to me having an excellent credit score, and it’s why my credit utilization is only around 1%. Admittedly I have a lot of credit cards, and as a result also have a lot of available credit, but my utilization wouldn’t be that low if it weren’t for consistently paying off my balances prior to the statement closing dates.

Some key aspects of my credit report

What’s my strategy, exactly?

  • I check all of my credit card transactions once a week
  • When I do this I check all of the charges to make sure they’re correct, and I also pay off balances on each of my cards
  • Given how many cards I have, I find this to be easier than setting a different calendar reminder for each card

How exactly does this help my credit utilization? Typically your credit utilization is measured based on your balance as of your statement closing date, so whatever shows then is what counts:

  • If you have $10,000 in available credit and $3,000 in charges when the statement closes, your utilization is 30%
  • Meanwhile if you have $10,000 in available credit and you already paid off all $3,000 in charges, then your utilization is 0%
  • There’s also nothing wrong with taking a hybrid approach — for example, if you have $10,000 in available credit and pay off $2,000 of the $3,000 in charges prior to the statement closing date, then your utilization is 10%
  • Note that in some cases your utilization will be measured based on your average daily balance, but even by that metric you’re much better off consistently paying off your bill early

If you have the liquidity to do it, this is such an easy way to help bump your credit score. Even if you don’t do this on an ongoing basis, it’s absolutely vital that you do this in months where you have big charges and do utilize most of your credit, since a very high credit utilization even for just one billing cycle can do some temporary damage to your credit score.

Bottom line

If you’re in a position to do so, pay off your credit card balance early and/or often, ideally before the statement even closes. This will help keep your credit utilization low, which is a major factor that can impact your credit score.

My credit score is nearly perfect, and part of the reason for that is because my credit utilization is somewhere around 1%. That’s primarily thanks to me typically paying off my credit card balance before the statement even closes.

Does anyone else take the same strategy I do, and typically pay off their credit card balance before the statement closing date? If so, what’s your strategy — do you pay off the whole amount, part of the amount, or…?

  1. I always wait until the day after the statement closes to pay my full balance.

    I have thought of paying the full balance prior but I’m nervous the bank will think I’m cycling my credit. Is that a legitimate concern? Maybe the hybrid approach, might help with that. What do you think?

  2. This is a great idea. I can see how this strategy might be particularly useful prior to applying for a mortgage.

  3. I usually check and pay mine twice a week. I love seeing a zero balance, and truly enjoy aggressively monitoring my cash in/out flows.

  4. You should always leave a few dollars left. I leave $100 per credit card to let the statement close with a small balance otherwise you’re score may actually drop as it shows you’re not using you’re credit cards. Credit scores are SO STUPID. Who thought of this stuff ?only thing that should matter is. Do you pay on time ? How much credit is carried over to a FOLLOWING bill cycle.

  5. @ LOA — I’ve been doing this for 10+ years and have never had an issue, and have never heard of anyone else having an issue either.

  6. Great advice and topic, Many people do not understand this. This one trick can add huge points to a consumers CRA scores. One Question I have is , What issuers use the average daily balance method? That would be a great article as well if they are major issuers . Do you have a list of products that use that method?

  7. If you didn’t pay off your cards early, how high would your credit utilization be? It would be a struggle for me to use more than 10% of my credit in a normal month. But I also don’t run a transaction heavy business. I assume with your 20+ cards, you have a decent aggregated credit line.

  8. @loa the cycling only becomes an issue for fraud tracking . If a borrower makes numerous payments on a medium sized line and from multiple sources it raises internal flags. Generally if you use their portal its a non issue, they now are tracking NSF’s and if you are using payments from their portal as well as outside services (like bill pay via your bank ) . There were some cases of people tricking the system and getting a bust out @ 3 x the CL . They have sophisticated methods of detecting this behavior now . Stay within their payment eco system and dont switch which bank you pay from multiple times in a billing cycle and dont stack 2 or 3 payments into 1 or 2 days and you will be fine

  9. I have a very high score. I NEVER pay until the exact due date ever.I’m also not opening new accounts frequently.

  10. Wonder if that applies to Amex charge cards like the gold. Since theoretically there’s no limit then there should be no utilization %

  11. This is a useful tip; however I generally only pay down my balances on statement closing when I know I will be applying for credit (like before I got my car). Normal times, I just pay off my balances a week before the due date.

  12. This is good advice if applying for more credit. But people should know utilization has no memory. Your last statement is all that matters. You don’t need to do this every month. You can do it strategically for a quick boost. Then again, you sometimes never know when a new sign-up bonus will change your plans.

  13. @Liam, “ Wonder if that applies to Amex charge cards like the gold. Since theoretically there’s no limit then there should be no utilization %”

    I’ve always assumed it applied only to credit cards, not charge cards (like many AMEX), but would love to know if my assumption is correct.

  14. I pay off all big charges on personal accounts as soon as they post. I had a $22,000 business purchase in November on a business card with a $25,000 limit and I actually prepaid the account before it posted so that I could keep using the card on the trip without the card going to the limit. For the small stuff, I pay everything on the first of the month. I have all my credit cards set to close within five days of the end of the month. In a normal month, I utilize 8 to 10 cards between work and personal.

  15. @ Ben — What Ryan said is correct. Until about a month ago, I paid off all of our cards before they closed each month. However, creditkarma said our credit score was being hurt (whatever that means when you are already over 800) by our credit usage being TOO LOW. Now, I pay off large purchases as we go, but otherwise allow our statements to close with balances. That keeps our overall utilization around 1-2%, which seems ideal.

  16. I have the same strategy, but I do let a card or two carry a balance just after the closing statement. I once paid off all my cards early to have 0% utilization across the board. However, I noticed that when I did that, one of my credit/FICO scores actually dropped 15 points. Nothing had changed except that. So on the next round, I let one card carry a balance of like $5 after it closed and it shot right back up.

    So while it is good to pay early, it’s also better to have a credit utilization of 0.01% than 0.00%.

    Also, I do make sure each card, at least once a year, has some balance at the end of the statement so that it shows on my credit report that I am at least using that card. Not sure if it makes a difference but you never know.

  17. @ Lucky…Good info. I never realized the statement closing date was weeks before- thought it was just a few days. I guess I have been doing something similar. After a days transactions I just go in and make a payment for that amount. Some of my reoccurring charges like HOA where there is no convenience fee I charge and then go in and pay as I already have the money set aside for it.

  18. I do this for my British credit card because I only pay bills and do UK financial things once a month. So I will often pay even before the statement date if I am taking care of matters for that month.

    For my US credit cards, which is the vast majority of my dealings, I don’t do what Ben does.

  19. For me a needless exercise. I have 10 cards in my name and my wife has 3-4 in hers. I just do a monthly budget and pay off the entire balance on each card a week or so before the due date. However, I also have $30,000-$40,000 limits on many of the cards (and no limit on my Amex Platinum and Gold cards) so I don’t have to worry about ever hitting the cap. Also, my credit utilization is probably less than 5% at any time (I have $250,000-$300,000 in available credit on the cards). Also, not looking for any major purchases since retired, wrote a check for my last house (and will do the same if we move) and have paid cash for cars for the last 20 years. Can’t imagine every getting another loan, even if zero percent offered. Also, my credit rating typically runs between 800 and 820 so not too worried about any minor increase prepaying the cards would provide.

    To each his or her own but my process works just fine for me.

  20. I have been doing that for years and sometimes I also prepay a major charge, although not all cards let you do that. What I would like to know is if credit utilization is by card or by total credit or some mix of the two.

    For example, if you have a total of $100,000 in credit and you have paid off all of your cards, but one and that card has a $1,000 credit limit and you have charged $900 on it, what is your utilization? For that card it is 90%. For all cards it is .9%. What is is for credit score purposes?

  21. This may be a dumb question but does paying off the balance before the statement closes affect earning points on spend?

  22. Lucky–did you pay anyone for this advice? TPG paid me $200 for it a few years ago when it published my “Reader Mistake Story”. I didn’t fully understand how credit scores worked until I had a month when one credit card at statement close was at 30% utilization and another was at 60%–my credit score literally dropped 120 points. Took a few months before it was back to normal. No long term damage, but the $200 was nice (:-).

  23. Reaper

    I was putting over credit limit on Amex Blue Business Plus (which is allowed) .

    I closed my Amex Marriott Business (former Starwood card) and that of my husband . I then change my mind and called back same day to see if I could keep both open.

    Husband : Yes

    Me : No – but I could reapply but excluded from signup bonus due to “once in a lifetime” and no free night for a year

    Reason – two high utilization with Amex even though I paid of Amex Cards cards off before statement date whenever I had high balance. I did exceed the credit limit as they said that was allowed. I should not have believed them,

    Now when pushing through a big tax payment through Amex Blue I call and have them do a manual payment to cover the tax payment amount before I make charge. You can not do a payment in excess of current balance online.

  24. how does a card like the AMEX Platinum work where there is no set credit limit. How do they figure credit usage with that card. Or is that card not used as it is not a “credit card”?

  25. All of my cc’s are on auto pay. So, you are saying that one should stop the auto pay and pay online early?
    Auto Pay is a big timesaver….and manually every month watching the due date and paying early is a lot of work. No one has talked about auto pay. What do you think? Thanks.

  26. I’ve read others having their accounts closed by doing this (circumventing credit limits by paying off early, before statement closes). I see no reason to do this (I just pay statements when it pops up), as it never really affects my credit score that much, and unless I have a very big purchase, 10% utilization is what I normally have.

  27. I pay my transactions before they even get posted. This has helped me gain 163 points in 2 years and almost double my credit limit.

  28. It might be helpful to have your advice reviewed by credit score experts.

    Many credit card companies report only your statement balance to the Credit Reporting Agencies. If you regularly have a $0 balance, your history does not show that you use credit. For what it’s worth, two real-life examples follow.

    Person 1 followed this approach for years. Despite charging and paying off over $100,000 each year, his credit score stayed the same, and not very high. When he started having non-zero statement balances–which he paid off in full each month–his credit score grew significantly.

    Person 2 travels extensively and charges everything [pays less than $1,000 in cash each year]. He set up automatic payment from his checking account of the statement balance on the due date for each of 20+ cards. His FICO score has been over 820 for over ten years.

    If you exceed 30% of your credit limit on a given card on a regular basis, you might consider moving credit from another card [where permitted]. If not, it would be a lot less work to request an appropriate increase in your credit limit and have one hard pull on your credit report [which will have little to no effect after about 12 months].

  29. Autopay works fine – i use it with all of my cards. Recently to pay taxes i have been maxing out two cards and i watch my score go from the 820s to 710. A day or two after the autopay it is right back to the 820s. In fact usually a point or two higher. So long term there appears to be no affect but clearly dont apply for credit until your score goes back up – tmobile even rejected my checking account application until it went back up and i reapplied. When the balances stay below 10%, even with autopay set for the payment due date, the score rmains nearly the same.

  30. While I know that a high percentage of credit used is bad, I would have thought that having a history of high expenses would be beneficial since credit card companies prefer people who spend more.

    Does the actual amount reported each month not matter at all?

  31. I have excellent credit and am accelerating my mortgage payments which I believe is hurting my credit score because my total credit line is decreasing steadily. I used to have an 810+ credit score even when paying credit card bills by the due date. But last year, my score slowly inched down to 780. Now that I pay my credit card balances 1 day before the close date, I have an 830+ score month over month.

  32. As someone in banking, outside of getting a mortgage this is very much unnecessary for the majority of your readers…800+ is for ego as 760+ will almost always secure the lowest rate. Also keep in mind the scores you see from various cc companies aren’t the same as what lenders see/use.

  33. JDL +1

    If as most of us have 20+ cards with combined substantial credit, your score would only drop precipitously if you made a substantial (ie tax) payment on a card triggering a high use of credit on that card. The effect would also be temporary and for many dropping from 820 to 780 for a month or two is not a big deal.

  34. I used to always do this but now have stopped paying everything before the statement closes. It was statement by a Chase Sapphire Reserve rep that I didn’t seem to be using my credit (even though I spend $30k on it yearly) that scared me. Now I pay most of my bill prior to statement closing but leave a few hundred $$$ as a balance to be paid the day my statement closes.

  35. I agree with the question from the reader that asks what your credit score would be if you only paid on or before the due date with autopay. I’m not very convinced that you are getting much of a boost this way.

  36. We have at least 15 cards which I pay off daily, sometimes more than daily. It doesn’t take much time. This might affect our credit slightly negatively but it has a few positive benefits:

    1) We know exactly how much cash on hand we have at any point in time, the balance of which which I try to keep as low as possible. Money drained from a checking account is simply gone, securities are not easily stolen and if fraudulently sold you will be made whole.

    2) We know exactly what’s being charged to our cards and keep an eye out for bogus charges.

    3) We don’t have any autopay “accidents” since we’ve looked at our zero balance so many times.

    4) We have opportunities to reflect on what we are spending money on.

    5) We can verify that we are appropriately credited for various AMEX bonuses and things like that.

    Credit scores in the 790s – 810s, that’s probably high enough.

  37. Lucky, aren’t you concerned that if you pay off the full balance, and the statement closes, the card issuer will report a 0% utiliization and there will be nothing to report?

    Back when I was trying to build my credit, I would make sure that 5-10% would remain on the card when the statement closed, and as soon as it did, I would pay that off. If I recall correctly, having a 5-10% utliization did much better things for my credit score than the times I just paid it down to 0 and left it alone.

  38. I personally thank Ben and OMAAT team for where I am now (Score – 815) after opening my first credit card less than 5 yrs ago ( July 2016). I mostly follow Ben’s advice in the post expect I mostly put my biggest transactions (Rent, Utility etc) on my Amex BBP and business cards don’t report on your credit score

  39. I pay on the due date and take every minute when my money is in my back account, even if interest rates are tiny. Most of the time my utilization only runs about 1% anyway. And when I make a big purchase I get dinged for 20-30 points, but it pops back in a month or two. Interestingly, in those cases it doesn’t seem to be credit utilization as much as the balance change. I think I could charge more if I did it regularly. But when you spend $3K one month and $13K the next on an account the credit bureaus get antsy. And, when I’m not being dinged I run 810-850 depending on the model.

  40. I have been preaching this to younger folks to boost their credit score. It makes no sense to me that if I charge something, I am not using my available credit unless and until the date the statement is prepared, but if I wait until the last date to pay without incurring any interest charges, it lowers my credit score.
    While it may not make sense, it’s their game and they get to set the rules. I have seen that paying a big monthly balance early (like $10K) can mean a score 25 points higher than waiting until the due date.

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