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9 ways to carry card debt responsibly in the coronavirus crisis

Use these tips to help you come out of the crisis in good financial shape


If you’re stressed about your credit debt, learn some tips and tricks about how to manage it during the coronavirus outbreak. You’ll likely come out OK on the other side.

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It’s easy to become overwhelmed with everything happening in the world right now.

Finances already felt so uncertain for so many, and those living paycheck to paycheck are especially stressed.

But now isn’t the time to compound that stress with extra fear, dread and worry about credit card debt.

Keep reading to find out how to best manage your debt during this challenging time – you will likely come out fine when it’s over.

See related: How to manage your credit cards during the coronavirus outbreak

1. Ask your issuer to lower your interest rate 

That’s right, you can actually call and ask your credit card companies to lower your rate, said Amanda Frances, author of personal finance digital courses and the weekly podcast “And She Rises,” designed for women entrepreneurs.

Years ago, when Frances had credit card debt, she asked to have her interest rate lowered – and succeeded. Your issuer might be more willing to offer some relief if you’ve been affected by the coronavirus crisis.

“Remember: The worst they can say is, ‘No,’ and even if they do, you’ll know you’ve taken an action toward taking control of this situation,” Frances pointed out.

2. Be resourceful with your credit

Frances also said that debt isn’t good or bad – it’s simply a choice to pay something off over time.

So if you use credit to get through a tough time or develop a new skill or business, that’s something to be grateful for.

“If you need credit to buy essentials right now – like food or household goods, use it – it’s not shameful, it’s resourceful,” Frances said.

3. Remember, all of this is temporary

History has shown us that jobs will come back and the economy will recover.

“You will go back to paying on your credit cards as normal sooner than you think, so doing what you have to do right now to get through this is more than OK,” Frances noted.

See related: Poll: Long-term credit card debt looms large in the face of coronavirus outbreak

4. Try to find ways to make extra money

People are still making money right now, and many are using the internet in new and necessary ways.

“Maybe your graphic design hobby is needed by an online entrepreneur right now, or perhaps your copywriting skills can lead to a blog or creative business venture you’ve never thought of,” Frances said.

Nearly all of Frances’s clients are business owners who are expanding their brands right now by critically thinking about what is needed and useful in the current climate.

While price points are shifting, offers are changing and payment plans are more needed than ever, they are moving forward – and making money, according to Frances.

“Be willing to open yourself up to the possibility of money coming to you in a way you previously had not explored; you can pay your debt down and your bank account can grow – even now,” Frances said.

5. Make at least your minimum payments

Rod Griffin, director of consumer education and awareness at Experian, said the COVID-19 outbreak and associated challenges – including job loss and a temporary decrease in income – may make it difficult for many people to pay off their balances in full each month.

“If you find that you need to carry a balance, try to continue to make at least the minimum payment due each month,” Griffin suggested, “and that will help you avoid damage to your credit history and scores by ensuring your accounts do not have any late payments reported.”

It’s important to avoid taking on unnecessary debt at any time, but it is especially true now, Griffin added.

6. Contact your lender if you can’t make a payment

Griffin also suggested contacting your lenders as soon as possible if you’re worried you will not be able to pay your bills on time.

Lenders may have several options for helping you cope with a variety of COVID-19-related financial hardships, including placing your accounts in forbearance or deferment for a period of time.

While you are reported in forbearance or deferment, your accounts will have no negative effect on the most common credit scores from FICO and VantageScore, Griffin added.

In addition, lenders can add a special statement to your accounts, indicating that you’ve been affected by a natural or declared disaster.

Some scoring systems will consider accounts with a statement as “neutral,” meaning they will have no negative effect on your credit score, Griffin said.

“Keep in mind that lenders don’t want you to fall behind on your payments any more than you do, so contacting them early can help you protect your financial health in the long run,” Griffin explained.

See related: 8 things you must know about credit card debt

7. Compare your cards’ interest rates

Brian DeChesare, founder of the website Mergers & Inquisitions, said if you’re relying on credit cards to get by during the crisis it’s important to compare the interest rates on your cards.

“Use the ones with the lowest interest rates first – if your income is reduced due to work shutdowns then every few dollars you save in interest payments can prove valuable,” DeChesare advised.

8. Pay attention to your transactions’ interest rates

Most credit card companies charge different APRs for different types of transactions, said Lisa Torelli-Sauer, editor at Sensible Digs, a website geared toward helping people make smart investments in their homes.

For example, a normal credit card purchase may be charged at a rate of 12%, while a cash advance transaction on the same card may be charged at 22%.

“If you are planning on carrying a balance on your card, be mindful of the type of transaction you are making – it will save you money in the long haul,” Torelli-Sauer suggested.

9. Consider a balance transfer card after the crisis

Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com, said that when a crisis shocks the nation, the effectiveness of contingency plans can be hard to measure, but the aftermath is easier to plan for.

Many may feel the need to carry balances on their credit cards to make emergency purchases.

If you find yourself in credit card debt after a time of crisis, you may want to consider a 0% balance transfer credit card to help you quickly pay down debts.

With the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates, consumers can expect slightly lower APRs on new credit card offers, according to Dvorkin.

And a six-to-21-month grace period on accrued interest can make it the perfect time to consider using a balance transfer to pay off debt once this is all over, he added.

Don’t forget that this method only works if you pay off your debts as soon as possible, and it’s in your best interest to avoid panic buying and unnecessary expenses while this crisis lasts.

Additionally, credit card issuers may tighten their standards for 0% APR balance transfer offers as the economy worsens, so check your credit score before you apply.

“Know that there is a solution to debt once this storm blows over, and by avoiding maxing out your credit cards, you can put yourself in the best position possible if you need to utilize a balance transfer credit card,” Dvorkin said.

Final thoughts

Financial struggles are real – and they’re scary.

But you must try to remain calm in the face of that fear and not get overwhelmed.

During this crisis it’s important to create a new financial reality for yourself and redefine your relationship with your money.

Keep in mind that credit is a resource to be used, and don’t stress out if you’re using it for essentials.

Remind yourself daily that this too shall pass, that you are resourceful and that you will be OK.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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