Credit card issuers offer cardholders relief amid coronavirus outbreak
By: Susan Ladika
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, major credit card issuers are offering relief to their customers.
Even though many places around the country are starting to open, the pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy. Workers are still at risk of being laid off or facing reduced hours or pay.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we want our customers to know we are here to provide assistance should they need it,” Anand Selva, chief executive officer of Citi’s consumer bank, said in a statement.
At the same time, scammers are now trying to take advantage of coronavirus concerns by sending out fake emails about the virus that are designed to steal consumers’ personal and financial information or to infect their computers with malware.
What to do if you’re struggling to pay your credit card bills
Many credit card issuers are allowing customers to opt into financial relief programs online. These programs are a convenient way to access short term relief. But it could come with a long term cost as many cardholders will continue to see interest accrue. With the average credit card interest rate sitting at 16.04%, cardholders might find more cost-effective relief through other options.
Here’s what issuers are currently offering:
Cardholders who are having difficulties can get assistance through American Express’s financial hardship program. Eligible cardholders have the option to enroll in a short-term payment plan, which provides relief for 12 months, or a long-term plan, which can provide relief for either 36 or 60 months.
Under both options, you will receive lower monthly minimum payments and interest rates, plus waived late payment fees and annual fees. But you might not have access to certain card benefits and features.
If you enroll in the short-term plan, you might be able to continue putting new purchases on the card but with a reduced spending limit. If you are participating in the long-term plan, you will not be able to use the card. With both plans, you will not need to reapply for your card after “successfully complet[ing]” the program, according to the company’s website.
Amex will report participating cardholders to the credit bureaus as current, assuming they comply with the program’s rules. But the program’s terms do offer some important caveats: Amex will inform the credit bureaus that you are enrolled in a payment assistance program (if you’re in the long-term plan). And under both plans, Amex will report that you have a lower credit limit.
While these factors do not have as much of an impact on your credit score as a delinquent account does, it could still signal to other lenders that you might be having some financial hardship.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders who have trouble paying credit card bills can request a credit card payment deferral by calling the number on the back of their card. Previously, the company’s website stated that cardholders could “qualify for a payment deferral for future dates on or before August 15, 2020.” The website, however, no longer specifies how long cardholders have to request assistance.
To qualify for payment assistance, cardholders must “have an existing balance and have a payment due,” according to the website.
Bank of America sent an email to Preferred Rewards members in May stating that the company had temporarily suspended the annual program review process. Members whose assets dropped below the regular threshold to keep their status would continue to qualify for program benefits. It is unclear if Bank of America is still suspending this program.
Barclays urges credit card account holders to request payment relief online. As of May 4, the bank is granting payment relief for two statements, but interest will continue to accrue.
“We understand that this is a time of uncertainty for many people, and we know 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 to discuss how we might be of assistance,” the bank said in a statement.
In a March 26 update, Chairman and CEO Rich Fairbank confirmed that they are offering waived fees and deferred payments on credit cards for some cardholders.
Because each customer’s situation is different, the bank encourages customers to contact it directly. To contact Capital One customer service about an existing account, call (800) 227-4825.
See related: How to clean your credit card
Previously, Chase Bank’s coronavirus landing page only included assistance programs for mortgages, home equity lines and car loans. But in an April 3 update, it announced a credit card relief program. Previously, it stated that customers will be able to “delay up to three payments on your personal or business credit card” if needed, with interest continuing to accrue.
The website no longer mentions a specific number of payments cardholders can delay, but according to the terms and conditions a CreditCards.com editor accessed through his account in June, Chase has started only allowing cardholders to defer one payment. Chase encouraged its customers to enroll for this program online.
It also stated that active duty military members who are responding to a disaster might have access to additional benefits. Servicemembers can call the bank for more information.
In a letter to shareholders, the company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, also promised to not report late payments to the credit bureaus for “up-to-date clients.”
See related: Chase offering limited-time bonus on food delivery for some cardholders
Citi customers who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic might be eligible for assistance.
As of June 2, the bank is prepared to waive payments and late fees for two consecutive billing cycles. While interest will continue to accrue, nonpayment will not be reported to credit bureaus, so accounts that are current at the time of enrollment will not be reported as delinquent.
Discover 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.
“We encourage them to contact us by calling and are directing them to www.discover.com/coronavirus for phone numbers for each product line and other FAQs,” Discover said in a statement earlier this year. “We also can provide relief through our mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent.”
See related: What to do if you can’t pay your business credit card bill
Apple Card customers can enroll in an assistance program that will allow affected cardholders to skip their July card payments without incurring interest charges. The bank also offered this assistance in March, April, May and June.
Affected cardholders need to re-enroll in the program each month, but so far there is not a limit to how often cardholders can take advantage of this benefit.
“A customer could absolutely have enrolled/could enroll in all three months,” an Apple Card representative mentioned in a May email. Presumably, cardholders who enrolled in previous months could continue to enroll in the program for the month of July.
If you have questions, contact an Apple Card specialist at (877) 255-5923 or via chat in the Wallet app.
Cardholders can defer payments for three billing cycles. Though interest will continue to accrue, enrolled cardholders will not receive late fees, and their accounts will be reported as current, as long as accounts were not delinquent at the time of enrollment.
Synchrony is extending relief to customers experiencing financial hardship. The company’s website previously stated that this could include payment relief for up to three statement cycles, while interest would continue to accrue. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Cardholders can request relief through a form on the bank’s website.
Truist (formerly SunTrust and BB&T)
Truist is offering payment relief assistance to customers with personal and business credit cards, among other products. You can request a payment delay online or by phone. As of April 14, it was willing to delay payments for up to 90 days. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Impacted cardholders can defer monthly payments for three “consecutive billing cycles,” according to the website. For cardholders who take advantage of this assistance program, interest will accrue on card balances.
The bank is also waiving fees for cardholders deferring payments. This includes card annual fees that would have posted between the time you enroll in the program and Sept. 30, 2020.
See related: Coronavirus stimulus legislation doesn’t suspend negative credit reporting
Business credit cards
If you are a small-business owner and cash is not flowing and bills are piling up, the most important thing to do is contact your card issuer.
Some banks are also providing assistance in case you can’t pay your business credit card bill.
Another coronavirus complication: Scams
As consumers wrestle with the impact of the coronavirus, scammers are trying to take advantage of the situation.
In a June public service announcement, the FBI warned that the increasing use of banking apps could open doors to exploitation.
“With city, state and local governments urging or mandating social distancing, Americans have become more willing to use mobile banking as an alternative to physically visiting branch locations. The FBI expects cyber actors to attempt to exploit new mobile banking customers using a variety of techniques, including app-based banking trojans and fake banking apps,” the PSA warns.
Scammers might also be capitalizing on health and economic uncertainties during this time. In one such scam, cybercriminals are sending emails claiming to contain updates about the coronavirus. But if a consumer clicks on the links, they are redirected to a website that steals their personal information, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
Scammers also are targeting businesses by sending fake emails that resemble a company’s purchase order for face masks or other supplies in hopes employees will make payments into fraudulent accounts.
Another scam is to send an email about a company’s plans for remote work, hoping the recipient will provide personal information that the scammers can use for nefarious purposes. Other emails contain malware, according to the ITRC.
“When anything newsworthy happens, scammers will make every attempt to take advantage of it and benefit from all of the visibility and potential unknowns,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the ITRC.
She warns consumers not to click links, open attachments or download files from unknown sources about the coronavirus, and instead check reputable websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
See related: Identity theft in 2020: What you need to know about common techniques
The outbreak of a disease can upset daily life in many ways, and the ripple effects go beyond our physical health. Thankfully, many card issuers are offering relief. If you’re feeling financially vulnerable, contact your credit card issuer and find out what assistance is available. And while data security may seem like a secondary consideration, it’s still important to be vigilant when conducting business or seeking information about the coronavirus online.
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.