By itself, a single missed credit-card payment probably won't kill your shot at home ownership. That's not to say it won't affect you, but the damage depends on your overall credit history. If you have years of on-time payments, one late check isn't a disaster and an affordable mortgage should remain within reach.
The Fair Isaac credit-scoring company counts your payment history -- do you pay your debts on time? -- for 35 percent of your credit score. It isn't just a matter of lowering your score every time you miss a payment: Payments you make on time add points to your score If you have one missed payment it will be a negative on your report, but if you're current on all your other accounts, it shouldn't be fatal. Another factor is time: The older the missed payment, the less it matters.
All late payments are not created equal. The bigger and the later your payment is, the more it's going to affect your score: A $250 minimum payment made three months late hurts more than a $25 payment that arrives the day after deadline. If it reaches the point the company throws up its hands and turns you over to a collection agency, it becomes serious. Even a small unpaid bill could knock 90 points or more off your score.
The Big Picture
Payment history is 35 percent of your score, but only 35 percent. The amount you owe counts another 30 percent. Credit bureaus look at the combined results, not the individual pieces. If you're maxed out on your cards and just taken out several new cards recently, an almost-perfect payment history may not do you much good. If the payment you missed was a recent one, lenders may wonder if your debts are starting to drag you under.
Give your card company a month after your payment to report it, then download your credit report for free from the Annual Credit Report website. The report gives you a feel for your overall appeal as a borrower; you can also get your score through the site for a small fee. If your score is lower than you like and the missed payment is recent, consider waiting awhile so that your error ages and loses some of its bite.