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Credit Card Debt Relief During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated Mar 25, 2021 | Published Apr 09, 202010 min read

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At a glance

If you’re struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, your credit card issuer may be able to help. Issuers are currently offering a variety of assistance programs, typically on a situational basis, including deferred payments, reduced interest rates, and fee waivers.

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The COVID-19 crisis has impacted businesses around the world. And now, fittingly enough, the nation’s unemployment numbers have skyrocketed since March as millions are left indefinitely jobless.

This sticky situation raises an important question: How are millions of individuals and families across the nation (and around the world) expected to pay bills without an income?

There’s no cut-and-dried answer, unfortunately. But many financial institutions, including credit card issuers, have extended a helping hand, offering various types of relief to those facing financial difficulties.

Not sure you’ll be able to keep up with your credit card bills during the coronavirus pandemic? We’ve compiled a selection of issuers who’ve devised ways to help out.

Insider tip

For more credit-related information you may find useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, explore our list of educational quick links, covering debt management, returns/refunds, and general credit knowledge, below.

American Express

What’s being offered?

Amex has created a “Coronavirus Support” hub that includes advice spanning several topics — managing your account, disputing charges, support for business owners, and more — as well as several “helpful links” and issuer contact information.

Amex hasn’t mentioned any specific measures developed in response to COVID-19, but it does offer a financial hardship program that could be helpful. The program provides potential solutions like lower monthly payments, late payment fee relief, temporary interest reductions, and may prevent your account from being labeled past due if you stick to the applicable rules.

How do I sign up?

You can call the 24/7 Amex customer service hotline to discuss your financial situation at 1-800-528-4800, though wait times may be atypically long due to the high volume of calls.

Bank of America

What’s being offered?

As detailed in a March 19 press release, Bank of America is offering its accountholders assistance on a case-by-case basis. The press release details a variety of measures the bank may take, including refunded late payments and deferred payments for BofA cardholders.

How do I sign up?

BofA customers are encouraged to contact the bank through its Client Resources site.

Barclays

What’s being offered?

Barclays’ COVID-19 information hub offers advice related to payment relief, transaction disputes, and fraudulent transaction reporting for consumer cardholders. The website also details the issuer’s new call center hours and features company contact information.

How do I sign up?

Barclays requests that consumer cardholders submit payment relief applications, transaction disputes, and fraud reports through their online accounts. Disputes can also be filed by phone or mail.

Capital One

What’s being offered?

Capital One has instructed customers experiencing financial hardship to reach out if they need assistance, but hasn’t given any specifics on what sort of assistance will be provided.

How do I sign up?

Contact Capital One customer support. Online contact is recommended, as Capital One’s call wait time may be longer than usual.

Chase

What’s being offered?

Chase is currently allowing customers to apply for payment assistance for credit cards, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and car loans/leases (more on its COVID-19 policies here). With respect to credit cards in particular, both consumer and business cardholders can delay up to three payments.

How do I sign up?

Chase recommends applying for payment assistance online to avoid long phone wait times.

Citi

What’s being offered?

Citi has outlined several COVID-19-related assistance measures. Cardholders can apply for a waiver that eliminates the minimum payment requirement and late fees for two statement cycles. Accounts that request this waiver will still be reported current.

Citi also offers collections forbearance for credit card customers, plus mortgage and student loan forbearance programs.

How do I sign up?

Citi recommends applying for assistance digitally by logging in to your account online. Citi, like many issuers, is experiencing high telephone call volumes, so wait times may be atypically long.

Comenity

What’s being offered?

Comenity’s COVID-19 page mentions that the issuer is “offering payment programs to help,” but provides no specifics otherwise.

How do I sign up?

Comenity currently recommends calling the phone number on the back of your card to request payment assistance.

Discover

What’s being offered?

While few details are provided, Discover has “support in place” for customers who are struggling financially. The issuer has also provided answers for a number of coronavirus-related FAQs.

How do I sign up?

Discover suggests reaching out either by phone at 1-800-497-2816, online through your Account Center, or via the Discover mobile app.

Goldman Sachs / Apple Card

What’s being offered?

Apple and Goldman Sachs are allowing cardholders to skip their Apple Card payments for the current month without incurring any interest charges on the month’s statement balance.

How do I sign up?

Apple Card customers looking to apply for assistance can find detailed enrollment instructions on Apple’s Customer Assistance Program webpage. Take note that if you have a monthly payment scheduled, you have to enroll and cancel the payment manually to skip it.

HSBC

What’s being offered?

HSBC is offering a wide variety of assistive measures for credit card customers, including reduced payments and various fee waivers for both consumer and business cardholders.

How do I sign up?

To access HSBC’s assistance measures, the bank recommends logging in to your online account. Personal banking customers may also reach out by phone at 866-949-2351. Business banking customers should contact their relationship managers or call 833-722-4722.

What’s being offered?

NFCU has implemented several relief measures encompassing loans, credit cards, checking/savings accounts, and business solutions. Available credit card assistance includes payment extensions and late fee refunds.

How do I sign up?

NFCU’s COVID-19 response page includes instructions for requesting each type of assistance the credit union is offering. Cardholders can apply for credit limit increases, for example, through the bank’s mobile app, whereas late fee refunds should be requested via eMessage.

PenFed

What’s being offered?

PenFed is allowing eligible members to skip payments. The credit union’s COVID-19 assistance information also includes advice for disputing travel purchases that can’t be refunded through the merchant.

How do I sign up?

PenFed members can visit the online Financial Hardship Center (which mentions that the credit union’s process for providing assistance is the same whether you’re a loan or credit card customer), and should contact the credit union with other questions.

PNC Bank

What’s being offered?

PNC Bank may postpone payments and/or waive fees for customers with PNC loans, lines of credit, and/or credit cards in their names.

How do I sign up?

Hardship assistance for credit cards/personal loans and mortgages can be requested online. Otherwise, contact the bank by phone; customer service hotlines are listed on the bank’s COVID-19 response page.

Synchrony

What’s being offered?

On its website, Synchrony recommends customers reach out directly if they’re experiencing financial hardship, suggesting that assistance “could include waiving fees and charges across credit card accounts or evaluating credit limits to help with additional, necessary purchases.”

How do I sign up?

Contact Synchrony directly to explore your debt relief options.

Truist (BB&T / SunTrust)

What’s being offered?

Truist is allowing both BB&T and SunTrust customers to request payment relief with a variety of consumer credit products, including credit cards, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, and more.

How do I sign up?

Payment relief applications are currently available online. Customers can contact BB&T or SunTrust by phone, if they’d prefer, though this will likely involve an exceptionally long wait time.

U.S. Bank

What’s being offered?

U.S. Bank’s coronavirus relief information mentions mortgage payment relief and suggests that the bank “may be able to help” credit card customers who’ve been adversely impacted by the pandemic. The bank has also suspended withdrawal and transfer limitations (and associated fees) on savings and money market accounts.

How do I sign up?

U.S. Bank mortgage assistance applications are available online. To discuss credit card relief (and/or other questions), the bank recommends calling the number on the back of your card or its assistance line at 888-287-7817.

USAA

What’s being offered?

USAA is offering “special payment assistance programs” for credit cards, mortgages, and other loan types on a case-by-case basis. Withdrawal and transfer limits, as well as excessive withdrawal fees, have been suspended with respect to savings accounts as of April 23, 2020.

How do I sign up?

Members interested in USAA payment relief are directed to call the appropriate bank hotline; the numbers are listed beneath its payment relief program information.

Wells Fargo

What’s being offered?

Wells Fargo is providing various types of financial relief, including payment deferrals and fee waivers, to customers and small businesses on a case-by-case basis. Products that may qualify for these relief programs include credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and personal loans.

How do I sign up?

Customers who’d like to apply for Wells Fargo’s payment relief programs should apply via the bank’s online portal.

Don’t See Your Issuer Here?

There are far too many credit card companies out there for us to cover each one here, but it’s safe to assume that you can visit your issuer’s website or contact the customer service department to learn more. Remember that you may be better off contacting your issuer online — that way, you don’t have to deal with the extra-long wait times you’re likely to face if you call by phone.

How to Ask for Credit Card Debt Relief

If you’ve never used a debt relief program before, you may be unsure how to go about requesting help from those issuers who haven’t clearly outlined the process. We’ve compiled a few forms of assistance you may want to ask your issuer about once you’ve got them on the line.

  • Skipped payments/payment deferrals: If you’re not certain you can pay a debt’s minimum monthly payment, ask the lender whether you can skip the payment, or pay less than the full amount. Some may allow you to do so, while others may not. You might be able to defer the payment instead. However, with deferrals, you’d still have to pay that month’s minimum — just at a later date.
  • Lower interest rates: Don’t think you need to skip a payment? Your issuer may still be willing to reduce or eliminate interest fees for a certain period of time. For small credit card balances this may not be a gamechanger, but with larger debts it could save you a ton of money.
  • Waived late fees: If you’ll be able to make your minimum payment soon, but not soon enough, try asking your issuer to waive its late fees. By extension, if you think you’re going to miss a payment, ask whether the issuer is enacting penalty APRs and reporting missed payments to the credit bureaus, as some issuers will avoid these kinds of negative actions during the pandemic.
  • Increased credit limits: Those who’ve lost jobs during the COVID-19 crisis may be struggling to find the cash required to cover essential purchases. If you’re a credit card user with a history of responsible debt management, now could be a good time to request a credit limit increase. Just don’t lean too heavily on credit cards, or else you could find yourself struggling to pay off your debts once the current crisis finally reaches its end.
  • Rewards refunds: Most travel companies have clear cash refund policies, but whether you’ll get a refund on travel booked with credit card rewards could be up in the air. If you’ve purchased travel with miles or points and your plans have been canceled (as they almost certainly have), your issuer should be able to tell you whether you’ll get your rewards back. (If you booked directly with an airline or hotel using that company’s own miles or points, contact that company.)

In certain cases, however, you may have enough past-due debt that these types of assistance won’t help you very much. If this is the case, contact a credit counselor. Credit counseling services can help you develop a clear plan to improve your financial situation and repair your credit history.

Credit and COVID-19: Other News

On top of the relief programs we’ve outlined above, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an array of policy changes across the credit industry. Here, we’ll keep an ongoing log of any credit-related news that may impact your credit scores, or the way you manage debt in general.

Weekly Credit Reports

The three main consumer credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, typically provide free credit reports once yearly. However, as a response to the pandemic, the bureaus have agreed to provide free weekly credit reports through April 2021.

This should be a huge help if you’re dealing with financial hardship as a result of the current unemployment crisis and you’d like to monitor its impact on your credit.

Utility Inquiries Soften Up

An April 6 press release from Equifax details the credit bureau’s plan to switch credit inquiries performed when opening utility accounts — think phone, internet, and paid TV services — from hard to soft.

While hard inquiries have never been terribly impactful on your credit scores, they nonetheless remain on your credit reports for up to two years. The move represents a broader push to ease the adverse impact the pandemic could have on credit scores across the board.

Tweaks to Rewards and Benefits

The stay-at-home lifestyle imposed by the pandemic has stimulated a number of updates to big-name credit cards. Many now offer new or revamped restaurant and/or grocery categories, while others have incorporated rewards in less common categories, like streaming services. Several of these offers are only available for a limited time.

The list of such changes is long and ever-changing, so if you’re curious whether your current credit cards have any new benefits, you should be able to check by logging in to your online banking portal.

Debt Management Tips

  • How to Pay Off Debt: There’s no one-size-fits-all debt management plan. We’ve outlined six different ways you can approach your debts, depending on your situation.
  • How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt: If you don’t qualify for payment relief, consider consolidating your debts. This may allow you to decrease the amount of interest your debts are accruing while slashing the number of payments you have to keep track of.
  • How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work: Tackling debt with no income isn’t easy, but there are ways to make it easier. Transferring a high-interest balance to a card with a low-interest introductory offer is one of them.
  • “Backdoor” Credit Card Company and Reconsideration Phone Numbers: We outlined several major issuers’ relief efforts above. Many suggest using certain methods of contact, but for any who haven’t, and any we didn’t list, our compilation of customer support hotlines may come in handy.

Returns and Refunds

  • Credit Card Return Protection Benefits: Whether you made a major purchase you no longer think you’ll use, or you racked up a few too many not-so-essential “emergency” purchases, return protection might allow you to get your money back when returns are against the merchant’s policy.
  • Credit Card Travel Insurance: The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in most travel plans. Whether your credit card can help you recoup some of your expenses is a question for your issuer, ultimately, but our travel insurance overview is a good starting point.

General Credit Knowledge

  • Monitoring Your Credit Reports: If you’re uncertain about the more nitty-gritty details of how credit works, learning to understand your credit reports may provide some clarity while making it easier to keep your credit in good shape.
  • Credit Report Inquiries: If you think you may have to apply for a loan or credit card before the pandemic runs its course, you’re not alone. Find out how the inquiries that result from these applications can impact your credit scores.
  • How to Avoid Paying Interest on Credit Cards: While you shouldn’t rely on credit cards to carry long-term balances (unless you have a 0% APR), they are useful for knocking out purchases over the span of a month. Learn how to master the use of credit cards without paying a penny of interest.
  • How to Pay Rent With Credit Cards: Less lenient than most lenders, landlords rarely allow tenants to skip rent. The good(ish) news is that, if your landlord doesn’t accept card payments, some services allow you to pay bills like rent by credit card. There are extra charges involved, though, so be careful.
  • Dealing With Fraud and Identity Theft: With the tax season extended and stimulus checks sent, scam season is in full swing. Find out how to deal with identity theft caused by phishing and other types of fraudulent activity.
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Written by

Sean Messier

Sean Messier works to empower individuals with the knowledge required to use credit cards responsibly and to their advantage. His writing- and research-based background has granted him experience in an array of topics, from finance to business and beyond. Sean distills the knowledge accumulated over years of experience in the credit space into consistent, actionable articles, guides, and reviews.

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