ACCC: “Storm-proof” Your Credit During COVID-19
American Consumer Credit Counseling says being proactive with lenders and credit card companies is key to getting COVID relief and protecting your credit profile.
(Boston, MA) –Consumers struggling to pay monthly bills as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic must be proactive and communicate regularly with lenders, credit card issuers, and other financial institutions, American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) said today. The nonprofit credit counseling, and debt management provider is advising clients not to wait until falling behind on payments to take action.
“We are experiencing an extended financial storm as a result of COVID-19, and we are telling clients they basically need to ‘storm-proof’ their credit profiles and household finances,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling. “Communication is a borrower’s best tool when finances become challenging, and late or missed payments are inevitable. If you don’t contact lenders and explain the situation, there is no way for them to help you work through it.”
ACCC’s 2nd Quarter Financial Health Index found that the number of consumers who are not confident at all in the U.S. economy rose from 16 percent to 23 percent from March to June.
The CARES Act provides some relief options, but consumers need to be proactive. COVID-19 assistance programs are not automatic. For those that apply for modified payments or forbearance, accounts must be reported as ‘current’ rather than ‘delinquent’ until 120 days after the national emergency has ended. If a consumer’s account is not current, they are not eligible for this protection.
Some credit companies offer additional assistance, such as waiving late fees, reducing the interest rate, lowering or deferring a consumer’s monthly minimum payment, or creating a payment plan for existing balances. But at the same time, lenders reduce their exposure by simply slashing available credit as borrowers pay down credit balances.
“Although there are protections in place, some credit card companies are cutting consumer’s credit limits without warning,” added Trumble. “This can be detrimental to a consumer’s credit utilization ratio.”
Lower credit limits and total credit available, especially during a financial crisis, automatically increases the percentage of available credit being used. This is one of the single biggest factors in hurting your credit score.
ACCC suggests a simple “storm-proofing” checklist during COVID-19 to make sure your credit is protected as much as possible:
- Review all credit card, credit line, and consumer loan statements a minimum of every 30 days to make sure you are aware of payment status and any pending delinquencies.
- Contact lenders BEFORE you fall behind if you fear or know that a financial event will cause you temporary or long-term hardship.
- Ask about credit limits and if your lender or credit card issuer plans to lower your limits.
- Establish a credit score “maintenance” strategy of:
- First making sure you can pay all of your monthly debt minimums;
- Using any extra cash left over each month (even small amounts) to pay down the largest balance or the debt with highest interest;
- Being proactive and communicating in advance with lenders – even if only to learn what relief options they have in the event you experience financial trouble;
- Obtaining your credit report (it’s free to do so) and using free services to monitor your credit scores each month.
About American Consumer Credit Counseling
American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit credit counseling 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve financial management through credit counseling, debt management, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, and financial education concerning debt solutions. To help consumers reach their goal of debt relief, ACCC provides a range of free consumer personal finance resources on a variety of topics including budgeting, credit and debt management, student loan assistance, youth and money, homeownership, identity theft, senior living, and retirement. Consumers can use ACCC’s worksheets, videos, calculators, and blog articles to make the best possible decisions regarding their financial future. ACCC holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®). For more information or to access free financial education resources, log on to ConsumerCredit.com or visit http://www.consumercredit.com/financial-education.aspx