Credit card issuers and credit reporting agencies are making an effort to help consumers affected by the coronavirus outbreak. It will not hurt your credit if you ask your creditors for help in the form of forbearance or deferred payments.
While essential workers and those who can work from home are able to continue receiving paychecks, you may be among the millions who cannot. If you are already living paycheck to paycheck, this is devastating. Keeping a roof over your head and food on your table is job one and your credit card lenders and credit reporting agencies want to help.
We reported a few weeks back that there was legislation in the works that would limit or even eliminate negative credit reporting during the pandemic. This was troubling to me because without real, true data creditors will be forced to make future lending decisions that could likely make matters worse instead of better.
This part of the legislation did not pass. But the CFPB has issued guidelines to creditors, which asks that lenders report those who have asked for and received either forbearance or payment deferment help as being current.
The CFPB is suggesting, though, that the lenders report to the credit reporting agencies about any special arrangements they have given to their customers. The CFPB also has information for consumers on its website that may help you navigate student loans, mortgages and other debt obligations.
How will asking for help affect your credit?
The three national credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – implemented an industrywide crisis response program weeks ago. This program allows lenders to report all accounts as in deferment or forbearance.
Once reported as such, those affected by COVID-19 would not have their credit negatively affected. Lenders reporting data to credit bureaus as required by the CARES Act will not be reported as derogatory, nor will it cause your credit scores to go down.
Additionally, lenders may use an old tool to accomplish the same thing by adding a special “natural or declared disaster” statement to a consumer’s credit report using a special code. The effects of COVID-19 are certainly a disaster and are eligible for this coding. VantageScore and FICO recognize that code and treat any accounts coded with the statement as “neutral” so that there is no negative impact.
Accounts reported as in forbearance or deferment will show the lender’s repayment status. If a natural or declared disaster statement is added, that would be noted with each account to which it has been added. At the end of the forbearance or deferment period, lenders would automatically begin reporting accounts as in (normal) repayment, returning to a standard reporting process.
As with all agreements with creditors, I strongly suggest that you get the terms of the deal in writing, if only to make sure both parties are on the same page. As an additional safeguard, I advise all consumers to monitor their credit reports to ensure the information is updated appropriately.
How to stay informed
Each credit reporting bureau has established a COVID-19 portal to help people stay informed as things evolve.
- Experian’s website portal offers a wide range of information, including a page with links to more than 60 financial institutions, nonfinancial institutions and government agencies, along with details on services and assistance they can provide. Experian is also offering live programs every week through social media including Periscope, Twitter and Facebook Live.
- TransUnion has compiled a list of companies and organizations that are offering assistance to consumers having credit or debt issues as a result of COVID-19.
- Equifax has established the COVID + Credit Connection, which has helpful data including free monthly credit scores and credit reports. You can find out how to freeze or unfreeze your credit file, place a fraud alert or start a dispute at myEquifax. There is also information about the financial services community’s response to the pandemic and suggestions on how to manage your money right now.
- To help consumers, the three bureaus are now offering free online credit reports every week through April 2021. You can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you need help, contact your creditors ASAP
So, to get relief, anyone affected by COVID-19 who is concerned about debt payments should call their creditors as soon as possible to inform them that they have been affected and work with them to implement appropriate measures for the consumer’s specific circumstance.
In other words, don’t wait until you are delinquent to reach out for help. This will allow both you and your creditor to find the best solution – hopefully one that will keep you current. As you know, paying your bills as agreed and on time is the No. 1 factor in credit scoring. I don’t see that changing, even in these times. So if you can come to an agreement and are able to make payments, I strongly advise you to do so.
I understand that things could change and you might think you can honor your original agreement and then find out that you can’t. Again, call your creditor and let them know. Early communication will be key during these times. Don’t let fear or embarrassment keep you from reaching out.
If the help offered is not enough to bridge the gap between what you have and what they want and you come out of this with a lower credit score, don’t despair. You must take care of your family’s needs before anything else. I suggest you know where you are in terms of your score, but don’t obsess over something you can’t change right now.
Remember to keep track of your score!