As COVID-19 continues to threaten public health and the U.S. economy, credit card issuers are offering assistance programs for cardholders who may be financially affected by the outbreak. These programs can help you remain in good standing with your issuer in the short-term and safeguard your credit score from long-lasting effects.
Here’s a rundown of what’s being offered so far and other options you may have if you face payment difficulties:
In response to the virus outbreak, several issuing banks have released statements regarding their ongoing monitoring and response for customers. For credit card holders specifically, here’s what each issuer stated:
Impacted American Express cardmembers can enroll in the issuer’s financial hardship program. Eligible cardholders can enroll in a short-term payment plan, which lasts up to 12 months, or a long-term payment plan, which lasts either 36 or 60 months.
Cardholders enrolled in both payment plans could receive lower monthly minimum payments and interest rates, plus certain waived fees. But there are some key differences between the two. Under the short-term payment plan, cardholders may be able to continue using the credit card, but with a reduced limit. Cardholders in the long-term payment plan cannot use their card while enrolled.
As long as you abide by the program’s guidelines, Amex will report your account to the credit bureaus as current.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders can request payment assistance by calling the number on the back of their card. According to an August 2020 report from the New York Times, Bank of America may waive payments but will not waive interest.
Customers experiencing financial difficulty can request payment relief online. If your current financial relief has ended, additional assistance may be available.
Anyone experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic should reach out to Capital One directly to work out a solution.
“We understand the concern and uncertainty people may be experiencing surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are committed to being responsive to the needs of our customers and associates as the situation evolves,” a Capital One spokesperson said via email. “We also understand that there may be instances where customers find themselves facing financial difficulties. Capital One is here to help, and we encourage customers who may be impacted to reach out so we can discuss and help find a solution.“
Impacted cardholders can request payment assistance by enrolling online. Previously, the issuer’s website stated that cardholders may delay up to three payments, but it no longer specifies the exact number of payment deferrals available. The website currently states that cardholders might “be able to defer a payment.”
Eligible Citi credit card holders may make use of “always on” assistance programs, which include credit line increases and collection forbearance options. Citi has also started allowing cardholders to use ThankYou points for minimum payments. While many issuers allow you to use rewards as a statement credit, you’ll typically still be required to make the minimum payment.
According to a representative from the issuer, cardholders are encouraged to reach out if they need assistance so Citi can work with them individually to understand their particular needs and ensure assistance accordingly. You can call directly or log into your online account to request assistance digitally.
In a 2020 statement, Discover said it “will be extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of COVID-19. Discover customers may receive assistance that can include support related to payment timing, fees and late payments.”
According to Discover’s website, card customers should call 1-800-497-2816 or send a message directly through the account center online or in the mobile app.
Goldman Sachs (Apple Card)
At the beginning of the pandemic, Apple Card customers could skip monthly payments without accruing additional interest charges. The issuer’s website no longer offers specific aid to cardholders and instead points people to customer service representatives.
Navy Federal’s assistance program for members in response to coronavirus previously included credit card limit increases. The website no longer mentions the specific relief the bank is prepared to offer.
Synchrony, which issues retail credit cards for many popular national brands like Lowe’s, Sam’s Club and PayPal, is available to assist cardholders impacted by the coronavirus and will work with customers individually, according to a statement via email.
Customers facing financial hardship should contact Synchrony and engage with the issuer’s customer service teams to discuss options. These may include evaluating credit limits to assist with purchasing power and waiving fees on Synchrony Bank deposit accounts as needed.
Wells Fargo customers experiencing hardship related to coronavirus and in need of assistance are can enroll online. The issuer is evaluating needs on a case-by-case basis.
Contact your issuer
If you’re facing financial hardship and finding it difficult to meet your payment minimums, some issuer-specific options may not be the best fit for you.
“I’d advise against forbearance unless you’re really desperate, because interest still accrues,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate. “All that would do is get you out of paying the monthly minimum for a time, but you’d end up paying extra later on.”
Forbearance plans offered by your issuer may include postponing payments for several months, lowering monthly minimum payments or even eliminating some fees. But you should consider forbearance as a last resort. Reach out to your issuer first to discuss your individual circumstances.
“If you’re really in a pinch, contact your credit card company and explain your specific situation,” Rossman says. “Maybe they can offer you a better deal.”
“Most credit card issuers have off-menu options for those struggling financially,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications and spokesperson at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “All that’s required is to be honest about your circumstances when speaking with the account representative and asking direct questions about available short term hardship programs.”
Think about other options
Rossman recommends looking beyond your issuer for other options, as well. If you have an emergency savings, this may be a time that necessitates dipping into it. If your credit is healthy enough to qualify for a card with a zero percent introductory rate on balance transfers, that could help stave off mounting interest payments for a few months. You may want to look into a personal loan with a lower interest rate as well.
Learn more: What does zero percent mean?
Consider seeking assistance within your community, too. Look to resources such as community centers and places of worship or even friends and neighbors.
“If the issue is serious enough to last more than a few months to get back on track, or if your accounts are already seriously delinquent, it’s best to reach out to a nonprofit credit counseling agency like those affiliated with the NFCC,” McClary says.
This story was originally published March 10, 2020. As Bankrate continues to monitor credit card issuer responses to coronavirus, this page is updated.