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After Hurricane Harvey: How cardholders can help

Rewards can be donated or charges can earn points, but beware of scams

By  |  Published: August 29, 2017

John Egan
Personal Finance Writer
Writes trendy stories about credit cards.

Hurricane Harvey: How cardholders can help

Photos, videos and social media reports depict the horrific devastation and desperation that have swept across Texas since Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25. From Rockport and Corpus Christi to the metropolis of Houston, thousands of storm victims in Texas are struggling to cope in the midst of historic flooding.

If you’re eager to help those who’ve lost their homes or jobs to Harvey, you can give directly via charity websites, but do your homework first to make sure your donations are going to a legitimate charity.

Several credit card issuers are making it easy to donate your rewards points or charge donations to the American Red Cross from their websites – and, in Wells Fargo’s case, from any of its ATMs. Some issuers and card networks also are covering the cost of the processing fees, and some are waiving late fees for those in affected areas of Texas and Louisiana. Better yet? You might even gain some benefits (points or cash back) from doing good.

No matter how you choose to give, keep in mind that some charity websites might be overwhelmed in the wake of Harvey, so be patient.

“Giving tends to spike and peak within the first three days of the disaster,” says Steve MacLaughlin, vice president of data and analytics at Blackbaud, a provider of software for charities.

Remember, too, that scammers come out of the woodwork after natural disasters, so make sure you’re contributing to a reputable charity. (More on that later.)

Some card-related giving programs not working
Here’s a sampling of credit card programs that enable charitable donations. Check with your specific bank or card issuer – many are waiving ATM and late fees in areas affected by Harvey:

American Express: Cardholders can charge donations to the American Red Cross or redeem Membership Rewards points for a donation at its Members Give platform. American Express also has put the Red Cross donation link at the top of the AmEx homepage, which now notes that American Express itself is donating to the American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. 

BBVA Compass: The bank is waiving ATM fees in 58 Texas counties where a state of disaster has been declared. This covers both customers and noncustomers needing access to ATMs. The bank is also waiving late fees, extending special loan and deferral programs and allowing penalty-free withdrawals from CD accounts. The bank’s foundation is donating $250,000 to the American Red Cross and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and plans to raise up to another $250,000 for the two organizations.

Capital One: The card issuer’s No Hassle Giving site, which covers card processiong costs for donations to nonprofits, is “unavailable due to a technical issue,” a note on the website says, but Capital One has added a direct link to the American Red Cross to help those affected by Harvey. There is no estimate of when No Hassle Giving will return. A Capital One spokesman says the card issuer is “still looking into” what happened to No Hassle Giving. 

Charity Charge World Mastercard: Cardholders earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases, which can be donated to up to three nonprofits of your choice. Charity Charge covers all processing fees for donations.

Stephen Garten, CEO of Charity Charge, says, “We anticipate an uptick in donations and are sending out communications … to our cardholders, allowing them to opt in for the next month to have their cash back automatically donated to the American Red Cross,” Garten says. “This way, people will be able to support post-Harvey-related efforts simply through their everyday spending.” 

Citi: Cardholders can donate ThankYou points to charities through the PointWorthy website. PointWorthy says its standard 10 percent processing fee isn’t deducted from donations made by redeeming ThankYou points. Citi also now has put a direct link to the American Red Cross donation site at the top of its website's home page.

Discover: The card issuer is matching cardholder donations up to $500,000 for American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and waiving transaction fees on all credit card donations to the American Red Cross. Discover cardholders can either charge a donation or use their Cashback Bonus to donate to the American Red Cross. Discover also is matching employee donations to the American Red Cross through its Employee Giving Program. 

U.S. Bank: U.S. Bank customers can make donations to the American Red Cross at all U.S. Bank ATMs to support Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. U.S. Bank ATMs will accept contributions through Sept. 30, 2017. All the funds will go directly to the Red Cross. Also, FlexPoints Travel Rewards Visa cardholders earn 3x points on charitable donations through the end of 2017 (then 2x points thereafter).

Visa: The card network is waiving interchange fees on eligible donations made to the American Red Cross from Aug. 25 through Sept. 15 and will donate to the American Red Cross all revenue generated from these eligible contributions during this period. Visa also is making a $250,000 donation to the American Red Cross and Visa is double-matching employee donations to the Red Cross.

Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo customers across the country can donate to the American Red Cross’ hurricane relief efforts at Wells Fargo ATMs nationwide. Customers will not be charged a fee for using this service, and 100 percent of the donations will be sent to the American Red Cross. Wells Fargo’s Go Far Rewards customers nationwide can redeem any amount of their available rewards and donate to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund through Sept. 12.

Wells Fargo is waiving ATM fees for customers in the affected areas, as well as reversing other fees – such as late fees – for credit card and checking accounts. Wells Fargo is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and an additional $500,000 to local nonprofits focused on recovery and relief efforts in Texas in the coming days and weeks.

“Giving tends to spike and peak within the first three days of the disaster.”

Checking the charities
Before you donate, whether it’s to the Red Cross or a soup kitchen in Houston, check out the organization on Charity Navigator or GuideStar so you know the group is on the up-and-up. Plus, natural disasters bring out scam artists and fraudsters seeking to profit from your generosity.

If you want to make a charitable donation in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as Harvey, here is some advice on how to make sure your gift is going to the right place and doing the most good. 

1. Watch for red flags
“Red flags are when someone pressures you to give to their organization now, skirts around answering specific questions about how the money is going to be used, and cannot point to a track record of the work they have done in the past,” GuideStar says. 

2. Beware of phone and email solicitation
GuideStar says you, the donor, should initiate a contribution. If someone calls seeking a Harvey-related donation, hang up. If you receive an email containing a link that purportedly leads to a donation site, don’t click on it. 

Charity consultant Kris Putnam-Walkerly warns that charity scams also come via text messages, social media posts and even door-to-door solicitation. Many of these fraudsters claim to represent a well-known charity like the United Way or Salvation Army, but they don’t. 

“The real need, though, comes after that initial wave of response is done and communities are faced with the challenges of recovery.”

3. Do your homework
Before you send a penny to a charitable organization, do some research online, such as looking up its website and address. And, of course, check out the organization on a site like Charity Navigator or GuideStar. Another option is to give through a legitimate online portal such as Network For Good or JustGive

If you want to ensure your donations are going directly to hard-hit areas, consider contributing to Harvey relief funds operated by groups such as Global Giving, the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Houston’s United Way, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross

4. Keep in mind that money matters most
“Monetary donations tend to be most effective” following a natural disaster, Charity Navigator says. “Oftentimes, in-kind donations like food and clothes can be limiting in terms of what the charity can provide to the community.” 

5. Note that needs are more than momentary
Putnam-Walkerly says donors always react to the immediate images and stories that they see during and right after a disaster. 

“Those are great opportunities to make a difference even with small donations,” she says. “The real need, though, comes after that initial wave of response is done and communities are faced with the challenges of recovery.

“Rebuilding takes time and a sustained stream of funding, and that’s when donors who really care about an affected area can step up and make a difference.” 

See related: When disasters hit, charity scams follow, Card issuers respond to Hurricane HarveyStartups, apps, issuers simplify charitable givingHow to donate unused reward miles, points

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Updated: 09-20-2017

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