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The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has many Americans out of work and struggling to pay bills, which may include hefty credit card debt. Prior to the current economic turmoil, credit card debt hit a record high of $930 billion for Americans in the final quarter of 2019 — and chances are likely that 2020 will top that number.
If you're one of the thousands of Americans laid off, furloughed or facing reduced working hours, you may find it hard to make credit card payments. Thankfully, credit card issuers are offering various relief programs, which may include waiving interest and fees or providing the ability to skip payments.
- Call your credit card issuer
- Explain how you're negatively affected by the coronavirus
- Ask for assistance
- Confirm the terms of your relief program
- Take note of any effect to your credit score
If you're finding it hard to make credit card payments, the best thing you can do is speak to a customer service representative to review potential relief plans. Here is a step-by-step guide on what to do to get assistance.
In order to discuss assistance options, you'll need to pick up the phone and speak to a customer service representative. Chat options are not as effective in getting help. You can call the number on the back of your credit card to contact a rep or check if your card issuer has a dedicated coronavirus line.
Once you reach a rep, make sure you discuss any financial concerns that may apply, including:
- A recent job layoff, furlough or reduction in working hours by you or your significant other
- Concerns that your job or your significant other's job may be at risk
Any of these events can drastically reduce your income and impact your ability to pay credit card bills on time. It's a good idea to factor in the impact of your significant other's income, since you likely have shared expenses and/or joint accounts.
After explaining your situation, the rep will be able to discuss any available relief options that can assist your financial burden during this time. That may include late fee waivers, lower interest rates and the ability to temporarily skip payments without interest charges.
Keep in mind, the exact coverage you receive depends on your individual situation and what assistance your card issuer is offering. Some issuers are clear on the relief they offer, while others are vague and encourage customers to simply call and discuss options.
Learn more about what credit card issuers are offering as customer assistance.
Once you receive assistance, confirm the exact terms of the program. You'll want to know how long the relief lasts and if any fees are associated with it.
For instance, some card issuers, like Citi, are offering forbearance, which typically allows you to pause minimum payments. But you should verify if you'll incur any interest on skipped payments and how long you can put payments on hold for. If you have the Citi® Double Cash Card and receive an offer to pause monthly payments, make sure you know whether any interest will accrue during the forbearance period and the relief end date.
If you enroll in a credit card forbearance program, your account may continue to accrue interest, but your lender won't report the late payments to the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). This means there won't be a negative effect to your credit score because of missed payments for the time you are in forbearance.
However, it's also key to know that pausing payments and racking up additional interest and credit card debt causes your utilization rate (which is the percentage of your total credit you're using) to increase. This can have a negative impact on your credit score, so try and pay of any balances as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that you have to opt-in to a forbearance program. If you simply skip payments without speaking to your card issuer, your credit score will be hurt.
Last — you can request that your lender includes a statement on your account that indicates you have been 'affected by a natural or declared disaster,' which Experian states can help protect your credit history and credit scores.
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