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This article was last updated Mar 17, 2021. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) taking a bite out of American consumers’ wallets — either by job loss, medical costs, panic shopping or employer cutbacks — credit card issuers responded by communicating what assistance programs are available to their customers.
“For many Americans, whose financial margin for error is tiny even in the best of economic times, these disruptions can be a really big deal,” said CompareCards Senior Analyst Matt Schulz. “They can make it hard to pay your mortgage, car loan or credit card bill, for example.”
Issuers respond to credit card payment struggles
Card issuers have stepped up in the past with assistance programs to help their customers weather through terrorist attacks, floods, hurricanes, fires or other disasters, by either waiving late fees or interest charges, extending payment deadlines or even increasing credit limits.
Unfortunately, language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that would have protected consumer credit scores from negative hits due to missed or late payments was removed, according to The Wall Street Journal. If you choose to participate in a credit card issuer’s hardship program where late fees, interest rates or payments are waived or otherwise negotiated, it’s important to ask exactly how participation in the program will affect your credit score.
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Top credit card issuer relief offerings
CompareCards reached out to top card issuers to see what type of assistance is currently being offered to affected customers.
- American Express
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- Fifth Third Bank
- Navy Federal Credit Union
- PNC Bank
- Synchrony Bank
- U.S. Bank
- Wells Fargo
- Questions to ask your card issuer if you can’t pay your bill
American Express is ready to assist customers having financial difficulties due to the effects of COVID-19, said Ashley Tufts, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at American Express, via email. Cardholders can reach out to the company’s customer care professionals anytime by calling the number on the back of your card or through its digital servicing channels — online chat or the Amex app.
“We will work together to find a solution for their particular situation, such as discussing payment options or participating in available financial hardship programs,” said Tufts. Cardholders can visit the American Express financial hardship customer assistance support page to find out if they can qualify for a lower monthly payment, relief from late payment fees or a temporary lower APR.
On April 4, American Express also announced it would be extending the time in which to earn a welcome offer on a new American Express card for an additional three months. New card accounts (both business and consumer cards) that were approved from December 1, 2019, through May 31, 2020, that offer a welcome bonus based on meeting a certain spending requirement within a specified time frame have been granted that extension by the issuer.
Apple card customers recently received notice that they will be able to skip their March credit card payments, without incurring interest charges. According to the customer email, Apple stated that cardholders can connect to Apple Customer Support via Messages and enroll in its customer assistance program, “which will allow you to skip your March payment without incurring interest charges.” The payment waiver is has also been extended through April, but customers need to reactivate their request through their card’s Customer Assistance Program. The card’s standard APR will resume on May 1.
Bank of America
Bank of America launched a customer assistance page on its website stating, “We’re here for you with the solutions, support, and advice you need to manage your personal finances and to navigate the volatility of the market.” Bank of America also states that if you have been impacted by the coronavirus illness and need assistance with your account to contact the bank directly at 800-732-9194 or by calling the number on the back of your Bank of America credit card. or you can submit a request online for a payment deferral through your card’s online account.
The bank is now offering payment deferrals to its credit card customers for up to 90 days. Know that interest will continue to accrue, however, during any deferral. Also, if you opened a new Bank of America card between January 1, 2020, through March 31, 2020, you will be given an extra three months in which to earn any sign-up bonus attached to the card offer.
BBVA is offering payment deferrals or extensions to its loan and credit card customers. To qualify for assistance, BBVA credit card customers must fill out a request through the bank’s Online Payment Assistance Portal. Customers will be asked for their name, address, phone, last four digits of their Social Security number, type of account they are requesting relief from, as well as how many months of payment relief needed. Once the form is submitted, then a BBVA representative will reach out with a response.
Capital One emailed the following statement to CompareCards: “We understand the concern and uncertainty people may be experiencing surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are committed to being responsive to the needs of our customers and associates as the situation evolves. We also understand 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 so we can discuss and help find a solution.”
Cardholders can reach Capital One by calling the telephone number listed on the back of their credit card or access your account online to send a secured message.
According to a customer service email, Chase said: “Like you, we’re monitoring the latest news about the coronavirus. That’s why we’re doing all we can to make sure our branches are open, our bankers are there and our call centers are staffed. You can count on us at times like this, especially if you need our help.”
“If you’ve been affected by COVID-19 and need help with your account,” it continued, “please call us at the number on the back of your credit or debit card, or on your statement, to learn how we might help. Note that customers may face longer wait times when calling in.
Chase is allowing its card customers to delay up to three payments on both Chase personal and business cards if you’ve been affected by COVID-19, but you’ll need to enroll online first. Plus, Chase has extended the amount of time in which to earn any sign-up bonus by an extra three months for new cardholders who opened accounts between January 1 and March 31, 2020.
According to Citibank’s website, the bank offers “always on” assistance programs, such as increased credit lines and collection forbearance programs for Citi credit cardholders. The bank has 24/7 dedicated assistance and encourages cardholders to call the telephone number on the back of their card to talk to a representative to see what type of account assistance may be made available. Credit cardholders are being offered a waiver of the minimum payment due and any associated late fees for two billing statement cycles, but need to request COVID-19 assistance through the Citi Mobile App or your online account using the “Message Us” link.
Citi also announced that new cardholders who applied between December 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020, now have an additional three months in which to earn any sign-up bonus affiliated with the card offer.
“Discover will be extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19),” said Derek Cuculich, senior manager of public relations at Discover, adding that “Discover customers may receive assistance that can include support related to payment timing, fees and late payments.”
Discover customers may receive assistance that can include support related to payment timing, fees and late payments, said Cuculich in an email to CompareCards.
“We encourage them to contact us by calling, and are directing them to Discover.com/coronavirus for phone numbers for each product line and other FAQs. We also can providing relief through our mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent,” he said.
Fifth Third Bank
Fifth Third Bank is taking proactive steps to “lessen the financial strain on our customers,” said Greg D. Carmichael, chairman, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, on its website. The company is offering hardship relief programs to its customers facing financial challenges as a result of COVID-19. For its credit card customers, the bank is waiving monthly payment requirements on its Trio, Truly Simply, Platinum, Secured, and World Elite cards with no late fees for up to 90 days. To participate in a hardship relief program, call Fifth Third Bank at 866-601-6391 or log into your account and use the message center with “COVID-19” in the subject line. Note that interest will continue to accrue during the no-payment period.
HSBC is offering assistance for its credit card customers by deferring or reducing card payments or waiving cash advance and late fees for 60 days from when you enroll in the bank’s hardship program. HSBC also states on its website that it will protect your credit score by not reporting negative information. Card assistance is also being offered to business card customers. To request assistance, log into your HSBC card account and send a secure message or call 866.949.2351 from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern Time.
Navy Federal Credit Union
For NFCU credit card customers, you can apply for a credit limit increase via the NFCU mobile app or request a refund for any late fees assessed by sending an emessage through your online account. Customers may also call NFCU customer service representatives at 800-842-6328.
PNC Bank’s official statement states that the bank recognizes that customers may be negatively impacted by COVID-19: “To that end, we stand ready to work with those experiencing financial difficulty as a result, and we are taking the necessary steps to avoid potential disruptions of service to our customers. PNC is prepared to offer assistance, as needed, to impacted customers through a range of measures.”
If a credit card customer is experiencing hardship as a result of the coronavirus, PNC advises that they call 888-762-2265. The bank also stated that its credit card customers may be able to postpone their monthly payment with no late fees by submitting a payment deferral hardship request. If payment is due soon, then PNC recommends you call as a response to the hardship request may take up to two weeks. PNC states that relief may be provided for up to three billing cycles, based on account status. For assistance beyond three billing cycles, call 800-544-3623 ext. 34655. Note that if your account is past due when the hardship requested is submitted, your line of credit may not be accessible, and interest will continue to be assessed.
Synchrony Bank is encouraging its credit card customers to use its digital servicing tools to request a credit line increase, adjust auto-payments or to request account service assistance. According to a statement on its website, Synchrony encourages customers log into their accounts if impacted by the coronavirus and requesting help online since the bank has reduced phone contact representatives at its centers.
USAA is offering payment assistance to affected credit card customers, which can include a 90-day payment deferral. To see if you qualify, please call 855-764-4617.
U.S. Bank stated on its website that if you are being financially impacted by the coronavirus and need assistance, you should call 1-888-287-7817 to find out about what product discounts or “other customized solutions” are available.
According to an email from Evan A. Lapiska, U.S. Bank vice president of corporate affairs and communications: “U.S. Bank continues to closely monitor the situation but there are no updates specific to cardholders — we did communicate a few general updates for all bank customers — to share at this time. However, a number of options are regularly available to U.S. Bank customers experiencing hardship including rush replacement of a card, increasing credit limits and waiving fees. Customers with questions are encouraged to speak with a banker or contact customer service for more information.” The customer assistance phone number is 888-287-7817.
Wells Fargo has established a section of its website to provide assistance, which states that “protecting you and your finances during the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) situation is our top priority” and that it aims to “continue to serve you and keep you informed.”
“Our thoughts are with anyone affected by the coronavirus,” according to a statement on the bank’s website. “Wells Fargo is committed to helping customers experiencing hardships, including from the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). If in need of assistance, we encourage customers to call us at 1-800-219-9739 to speak with a trained specialist to discuss options available for their consumer lending, small business and deposit products.”
The bank added: “Please know we have devoted significant resources and efforts to help mitigate possible adverse impacts from the coronavirus, and will continue working hard to provide the level of service you have come to expect.”
Questions to ask your card issuer if you can’t pay your bill
- Is your bank offering any relief for credit card customers?
If you are experiencing financial hardship due to illness, job loss, job reduction or other reasons related to the coronavirus, call the number on the back of your credit card. Unfortunately, you may experience long wait times on phone calls, so you may want to visit your card’s online portal first to see if you can send a secure message or chat online with a representative to get the answers you need. Know that most card issuers are offering some type of assistance.
- If payments are waived, how long does it last and how does that work?
If an issuer is waiving card payments, ask how many months that will last. Also ask exactly when you can begin to start skipping payments and log the date and time of the call or keep a copy of all emails, or screen capture online chats in case you need proof further down the line that you received permission to skip payments. Also ask if there will be an opportunity to extend payment relief once the initial time period of reprieve has expired. If not, then you at least have some time to figure out what your next step will be.
- What will happen to any rewards I’ve accrued with the card?
If you have a credit card with a rewards program, ask the representative if any cash back or rewards points or miles will be lost by participating in a hardship or forbearance program that allows you to skip payments for a certain period of time. Generally speaking, your rewards shouldn’t be affected, but it’s better to know upfront than to be surprised later.
- Will late payment fees be waived?
If you’ve already missed a credit card payment, you need to contact your card issuer immediately to see if you can get any late fees waived and to see if the late payment has already been reported to the credit bureaus. Once you are approved to enter into a waived payment program, you should not be assessed late payment fees, however. But to be on the safe side, ask if late payment fees will be charged if you are granted payment relief.
- Will you waive penalty APRs if I skip payments?
Penalty APRs are typically charged when non-payments occur. But if you contact the issuer to request assistance as a result of financial hardship, penalty APRs shouldn’t kick in, but you should ask to make sure that any penalty APR can be avoided.
- Will interest still accrue on my account?
Unfortunately, interest will probably still accrue on any unpaid balance during a payment assistance program.
- How will deferred payments be reported to the credit bureaus?
This is one of the most important questions to ask. Card issuers don’t always have similar policies, so when requesting relief, ask how late or non-payments will or won’t be reported to the credit bureaus.
- Can you lower my interest rate or waive my annual fee?
If you can still make minimum payments on your card, but have a high APR, you can initiate a request with your issuer to see if it will lower your APR to save on interest charges. If you are thinking about canceling a card with an annual fee, you can also request that the annual fee be waived. Depending on how long you’ve been a customer and whether your account is in good-standing, you may be pleasantly surprised at the response, but there’s no guarantee.
- Can you increase my credit limit?
Know that if you are asking for any kind of waiver, you probably won’t be able to also get a credit limit increase. If all you’re looking for is some more room on your credit line, though, it’s definitely worth a call or email to your issuer. Your odds of success are greater if you’ve had the card for a while, don’t have a habit of maxing out your credit limit and always make payments on time.