These are difficult times for a lot of people right now; companies are laying off employees, states have declared an emergency situation, and a lot of people are fearful for their health. These are all legitimate concerns, but it also makes sense to take a few minutes to help ensure that you do what you can to preserve your credit during this crisis.
Some creditors will publicize their policies on helping people during COVID-19 but for many of them you have to call and ask what their policies are. Communication and persistence are the key to both getting the relief you need and avoiding penalties that can affect you for years to come, mainly in the form of costs, fees and damage to your credit report and score.
Here are 3 simple things you can do now to firm up your financial health during COVID-19:
1. Contact your credit card issuer and ask them to waive late fees, minimum monthly payments and interest
If you have a credit card, you likely know that you can make the minimum payment and stay current on the card. However, interest will continue to build up. Due to the ongoing crisis, many credit card issuers are willing to temporarily waive late fees, minimum payments and reduce interest.
However, you will need to contact them to ask them to do so, since they will not do so automatically. This can help reduce your monthly credit card payment while you work to regain your financial footing.
2. Contact your mortgage lender or landlord and ask to delay payments
If you have a mortgage, you may want to contact your mortgage servicer (who you make your mortgage payments to every month) and ask them to allow you to skip a monthly payment or two, if necessary. They will likely ask why you cannot make the payment, so be sure to provide the reason (i.e. reduced hours at work, laid off, etc.). Also make sure you get any agreement in writing from them. While this will not reduce what you owe, it can help you maintain your credit since you would not be in default if they agree to let you skip a monthly payment.
Most importantly, know what the repayment terms are and don’t hesitate to negotiate this. If it’s a lump sum after that time period that probably won’t work for a lot of people. If they spread the missed payments out over a year or two that may be easier to manage.
While landlords are not required to allow you to pay rent late, many will be understanding due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. If you lost your job or income due to that, be proactive and tell ask them if you can pay late without late charges. Another alternative is to make reduced payment. Landlords will appreciate this because they have fixed expenses they have to pay for no matter what. A reduced payment from you will at least help them cover these costs. Since evictions are not currently being processed, many may be understanding. Again, make sure to get all terms in writing.
3. Contact your student loan servicer to ask for a forbearance
If you have student loan payments and are unable to make your monthly payments due to sudden decrease in income, be sure to contact your student loan servicer (the company you you’re your monthly payments to) and ask them to put your loan into temporary forbearance. This means that interest will continue to accrue, but you will not be considered in default or late when the loan is in forbearance. While it is not good to do this long term, since the loan will increase in size, it will help as you improve your financial situation, since it will not show up on your credit report as having a missed payment. Be sure to get this in writing.
While you may not always have control of the economy and job loss, you do have control over how you react to it. By being proactive, you can reduce damage to your credit and help regain your financial footing quickly.