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How to avoid stress shopping with your credit card during the coronavirus outbreak

Many around the world are racing to make purchases in preparation for the coronavirus outbreak, but experts remind us what to first consider before buying supplies with your credit card.

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The Chase Slate® is not currently available to new cardholders. Please visit our list of the best balance transfer cards and best Chase cards for alternative options.

It's impossible to escape the headlines about the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the United States and around the world. And it's a natural reaction to want to prepare as best you can, whether that's frequently washing your hands or stocking up on supplies.

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that Americans store a two-week supply of water and food, as well as stock up on medicines and health supplies, there has been a run on certain products, with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and masks selling out at stores across the U.S. Many consumers are rushing to over prepare "just in case" — but be careful just how much your anxiety is causing you to charge.

"During times of uncertainty, it's normal for people to want to stockpile essentials, especially if their day-to-day life will be impacted," Bola Sokunbi, a certified financial education instructor and author of "Clever Girl Finance," tells Select. "However, it's important to be mindful of your spending."

Below, Select offers some tips to consider when making purchases on your credit cards during high-stress times:

  1. Take inventory of what you already have
  2. Make a list
  3. Be sure to pay off your balance in full at the end of the billing cycle
  4. Bottom line

1. Take inventory of what you already have

This may require a little earlier-than-normal spring cleaning, but it's worth doing before you buy things you already have enough of.

Erin Lowry, founder of Broke Millennial, tells Select to audit your cabinets first. "Are you 100% sure you don't already have hand sanitizer floating around or EmergenC packets tucked away in your medicine cabinet or a few cans of beans lingering?" Lowry says. "It's good to assess what you have before you add items to your cart."

Lowry also suggests really considering if the premiums on some of the most in-demand products, like hand sanitizer, are worth your spending. "Can you actually DIY this product or find alternatives?" she says. One homemade gel hand sanitizer recipe includes things you may already have at home, like isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera gel and tea tree oil.

2. Make a list

Before resorting to extremes and buying everything in sight, create a list of all the things you need to purchase.

"Lay out the costs and see what areas of your budget you can shift around to accommodate the additional expense," Sokunbi says. 

For some, buying these items with a credit card could be an opportunity to earn extra rewards or take advantage of a welcome bonus. Of course, before you apply for a no-annual-fee card with a generous welcome bonus, it's essential that make sure that you don't have to blow your budget in order to hit any spend requirements.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • TD Cash Credit Card: Lets you earn $150 cash back when you spend $500 within the first 90 days. Plus you can earn 2% cash back on groceries and 1% on everything else.
  • Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Offers a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months. This card also offers 3% cash back on groceries and 1% on everything else.
  • Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within three months, and receive 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, issued by Chase: Card members instantly receive a $150 Amazon.com gift card and earn 5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market, 2% back at drugstores and 1% back on all other purchases. (You must be an Amazon Prime member to qualify.)

3. Be sure to pay off your balance in full at the end of the billing cycle

If you don't have spare cash for additional spending during precarious times, it's easy to rely on credit cards. But you need to make a plan to pay off your balance arising from these extra expenses.

"Normally, the things you buy like this are fairly affordable, like groceries," financial expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax, tellsSelect.

"A large balance can impact your credit scores negatively, and if you cannot afford to pay your balance in full the following month, then interest will be applied," Ulzheimer says. "That will make everything you purchased that much more expensive."

If you are looking to transfer existing debt from interest-bearing credit card(s) to a card that offers no interest for up to 21 months, consider a balance transfer credit card that offers an introductory 0% APR period.

If you want the most time to pay off debt, consider the Citi Simplicity® Card with a 0% APR for the first 21 months on balance transfers (then 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR; balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening.) Or if you want to minimize fees, consider a no-fee balance transfer credit card, like the Chase Slate® Credit Card with a 0% APR for the first 15 months on balance transfers (then 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

4. Bottom line

While it's important to feel prepared during uncertain times, be cautious of just how much you're spending. And know that there are other ways to prepare that don't cost you money.

"Stress shopping to stockpile isn't what's going to keep you safe," Lowry says. "Being mindful about your health and interactions with those around you is going to help mitigate your risk." 

Wash your hands, refrain from touching your face and don't forget to disinfect your phone (and credit cards) frequently.


Information about the TD Cash Credit Card, Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Chase Slate® Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.