- If you’re unable to pay your bills, one option is to look into your bank’s credit card forbearance program.
- Credit card forbearance is an agreement you make with your lender. It essentially lets you pause or lower your account payments for a specified amount of time.
- If you enter into credit card forbearance, your credit score won’t suffer so long as you’ve worked out an agreement with your lender.
- If you simply stop paying your bills without talking to your bank, it may report your payments as late or missed, which would harm your credit.
- A credit card with an introductory APR offer could be a good alternative to credit card forbearance, but note that it could be difficult to get approved for a card if you’ve lost your source of income and your credit score isn’t extremely high.
When the coronavirus became a national emergency in March, Congress quickly passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, which included many provisions to help Americans economically. One of these provisions offers relief from immediately having to make payments to some bills, including credit card bills. This process is called forbearance.
How credit card forbearance works
Even before the coronavirus crisis, credit card issuers would offer cardholders accommodations when they were facing financial hardship.
Forbearance programs are meant to be temporary, to allow cardholders some leeway why they get themselves back on their feet. These accommodations could include a lower monthly minimum payment, a lower interest rate, or even allowing customers to skip one or more monthly payments while waiving the penalty charges.
While you won’t incur any late fees or penalty interest charges under a forbearance program, you’ll still continue to accrue interest charges on your balance.
Will credit card forbearance affect your credit score?
The CARES Act goes beyond the customary forbearance options, and specifies exactly how credit card issuers (and other lenders) will report data to the credit bureaus when payment accommodations are granted.
So long as you meet the terms of your forbearance agreement, your account will be reported to the credit bureaus as having a current payment history. That means that your forbearance agreement won’t hurt your credit score, so long as you hold up your end of the deal.
If you’ve entered into credit card forbearance prior to the CARES Act, it still won’t affect your credit score as long as you’ve made an agreement with the lender. Don’t just stop making your credit card payments – if you do this, your bank could report your missing payments, and your credit score could indeed suffer.
On the flip side, having a credit card forbearance agreement won’t fix credit problems that you already had. For example, if you had previously missed payments, or incurred debt, receiving these accommodations now won’t undo any damage. You can think of forbearance as having your account paused, but it won’t change any problems that happened beforehand.
How to receive credit card forbearance
If you think that you’ll have trouble paying your credit card bills, your first step should be to contact your card issuers. You can do this by phone, but many card issuers now offer online chats, which some customers might find faster and less stressful than speaking with someone over the phone.
In many cases, card issuers are eager to assist customers facing financial hardship during the current crisis. And they’re not doing so just to be nice; they also have an incentive to keep their customers happy and to motivate them to repay their loans, even if it takes longer than usual.
When you speak to a representative from your card issuer, inform him or her of the financial hardship that you’re experiencing, and ask what the card issuer can do to help, such as lowering your monthly payment, waiving late fees, or even lowering your interest rate.
Alternatives to credit card forbearance
If you simply would like to get a lower interest rate, you could consider applying for a credit card with a intro APR financing offer on new purchases, balance transfers, or both. These offers last for at least six months after you open your account, but some can extend for as long as 21 months, with the most offers being between 12 and 18 months long.
But to qualify for a card with an intro APR offer, you’ll generally need to have both excellent credit and significant household income. Fortunately, you’re allowed to include all of your sources of income such investments, government assistance, and child and spousal support payments. You can even include income from your spouse or domestic partner, so long as you have a reasonable expectation of access to it for the purpose of repaying a loan.
Credit card forbearance programs can be a valuable option when you’re facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus crisis, or for any other reason. And thankfully, utilising these programs will have no effect on your credit so long as you meet the terms that you agree to.
Related Content Module: More Credit Card Coverage
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