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COVID + Credit: Your Credit Questions Answered

Do you have questions about COVID-19 and your credit? Learn more about how job losses and social isolation have Americans worried about the future. [Duration- 2:23]

Reading time: 5 minutes

What questions do you have about Covid-19 and your credit? Sudden job losses and extended isolation have Americans across the country worried about the future. As in any period of economic distress, The Covid-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic is raising questions for many consumers. We’re living through unprecedented times, and there are likely to be long-standing financial ramifications even after today’s confusion has passed.

Readers have been asking questions all week about their credit scores, and what they can do to protect them in the months to come. Keep reading to learn what you can do on your own to prepare, as well as the steps lenders and creditors are taking to ease the burden on borrowers across the country.

Q: What are general best practices for consumers in the face of economic downturn when it comes to credit standing?

Follow these best practices to help minimize the impact of Coronavirus on your credit standing:

  • Ask for help. If you are unable to make even the minimum payment, contact your lenders and creditors and see if any assistance is available.
  • If possible, pay what you can. Try to avoid late payments. And, try to make at least the minimum payment on accounts, or pay any amount you and the lender or creditor agree upon.
  • Stay up to date on your credit reports. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus (available at www.annualcreditreport.com). You can also create a myEquifax account to get six free Equifax credit reports each year.
  • Consider adding a consumer statement to your credit reports. You can add a brief 100-word statement (up to 200 words in Maine) to your credit reports to explain your financial situation.

Q: What steps can I take to avoid falling into debt during the Covid-19 pandemic?

You can fall into debt for any number of reasons, many of which depend on circumstances specific to your financial situation such as an inability to pay bills, student loans, medical loans or other expenses. In the case of Covid-19, many Americans are facing layoffs and temporary shutdowns of employment that are disrupting usual sources of income.

Budgeting is helpful to keep credit card debt down, where possible. Take a look at how much you’re making and what you’re spending. Identify places where you may be able to trim usual costs.

Talk to lenders and creditors. Depending on your unique financial situation it may make sense to call their lenders and creditors to discuss your options. There may be options to defer payments or negotiate different interest rates.

Pay what you can. Ideally, you’ll pay your credit card bill in full every month. If credit cards aren’t paid in full every month, added interest payments can prolong debt. If you’re not able to pay in full, then aim to pay whatever you can, at least the minimum payment if possible. Not making a payment at all could further impact your credit standing.

Q: What about consumers who do fall into debt or who are anticipating a financial hardship due to layoffs or temporary closures due to Covid-19?

Consumers experiencing financial hardships are likely wondering how potentially late or reduced payments might impact their credit standing. Individuals with concerns may consider contacting their lenders and creditors to discuss their options and consider adding a consumer statement to their credit reports to explain the current situation.

On a brighter note, many lenders and creditors are aware of the financial challenges caused by Covid-19 and are taking steps to help consumers face them:

  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are overseen by FHFA, have recently instructed mortgage servicers to establish a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for borrowers who have suffered hardship due to the pandemic. Under this program, consumers who have experienced hardship can report their circumstances to their lenders and may be granted this relief period. Visit FannieMae.com and FreddieMac.com for more information on this relief program.
  • The Department of Education says borrowers can pause student loan payments for at least 60 days because of disruptions caused by Covid-19. Visit StudentAid.gov/coronavirus and ed.gov/coronavirus for the latest updates.

We will update this page if we learn of new relief programs that become available.

Q: How might deferred payments, missed payment allowances and other actions by credit card issuers be reflected on credit reports?

A: It’s important to remember that even one late or missed payment may impact credit scores and remain on credit reports for seven years. But generally, late payments don’t end up on credit reports for at least 30 days after you miss the payment. That means it’s possible to make up a late payment before it shows on credit reports. However, interest and late payment fees may still apply.

If you’re out of work or struggling due to the pandemic, contact your lenders and creditors to explain your situation and see if any accommodations can be made. In some situations like Covid-19, it’s possible that lenders and creditors may have special assistance available to reduce the risk of impacting your credit standing. Some creditors or lenders may waive late fees or offer short-term loans, and some may provide the opportunity to make reduced payments, interest-only payments, or no payments for some period of time -- a practice known as forbearance. Keep in mind, however, that accounts in forbearance can still be reported as late or missed payments by lenders and creditors to the three nationwide credit bureaus.

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