Q: I made a couple of late payments on my credit card and my interest rate has jumped to about 21 percent. I really can’t afford to make more than the minimum payment due.

Are there any companies that you know of that I can transfer my balance to with a lower rate? I rarely use the card anymore because of the rate.

A: Your problem is that you’re paying late. When you pay late, even if you pay late only once, credit card companies assume you’re in financial trouble and are reluctant to extend credit to you. After all, if you can’t pay your bills on time, you must be strapped for cash, right?

Paying bills late is the piece of negative information you see most frequently on credit reports. It will often take a year of paying on time to get your credit score back to where it was before you paid late once.

I don’t know if you’ll be able to transfer your balance to a lower interest rate card. Whether you qualify depends on where you credit score is at this moment. You can check out your credit score for $12.95 at myFICO.com.

You can shop around for better credit card deals at www.cardweb.com. But whatever you do, don’t cancel your existing credit card. If you can switch the balance, that’s helpful. But canceling your card (even if you no longer carry a balance) could dent your credit score further.

If you need budgeting help, check out a good non-profit credit counseling organization like Consumer Credit Counseling Services (www.cccsinc.org).