Ways to Help Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19
Learn how you may be able to protect your credit so it can be easier to get back on your feet once the coronavirus passes
The COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, and millions of Americans are concerned about losing a reliable source of income during the pandemic.
Understanding what factors affect a credit score may help you protect your credit. Lost wages could lead to missed payments on your mortgage, credit cards, student loans and other bills. And these missed payments could negatively impact your credit score and your ability to do things like apply for a new job, rent an apartment or apply for a loan. Having a solid credit history may be an important factor in protecting yourself financially during the crisis and rebuilding after it’s over.
It’s important to do what you can to reduce COVID-19’s impact on your credit score. So, here are some ways you can protect your credit and make it easier to get back on your feet once the pandemic passes.
Contact Your Lenders and Creditors
You’re not alone if you’re struggling to pay your credit card bill. Your credit card company may work with you to help you avoid possible negative effects on your credit score. If you find yourself in a position where you can’t make payments on bills, credit cards or other loans, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends working with your lenders directly.
When you call your lenders and creditors, you can start the process by explaining your financial situation and how you’ve been impacted by COVID-19. Then you might ask some of these questions to clarify the next steps:
- Does your company offer hardship programs?
- What are the requirements for enrolling, and are there any fees involved?
- What steps do I need to take to enter the program?
- Will I still accrue interest on my account while I’m in the program?
- How long can I remain in the hardship program, and how will you communicate with me during this time?
- Does the hardship program apply to all of my accounts with your company?
What’s the CARES Act, and How Does It Affect Your Credit?
The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers some protections for consumers and businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The CARES Act also contains requirements about credit reporting. The new rules apply to people who have reached a COVID-19-related payment relief agreement with their lenders. But like so much that’s related to COVID-19, the specifics depend on each individual’s situation. Here’s how the CFPB explains it:
- If your account is current, you may be able to make an agreement with your lender to do things like make partial payments or skip payments. If you meet the terms of the agreement, your creditor is required to report that you’re current on your loan or account.
- If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, the creditor can keep reporting your account’s delinquent status until you bring the account current.
The CARES Act requirements originally applied to payment agreements made between January 31 and 120 days after the national emergency ends.
Capital One® customers who may be experiencing financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19 should reach out directly to discuss available resources.
Maintain Your Credit Cards and Other Accounts During COVID-19
If you’re not enrolled in a hardship program, you can still take steps to keep your credit in good shape during COVID-19. Here’s how:
- Avoid late payments. Late payments have a lasting effect on your credit history and can stay on your credit reports for years. You can make sure you keep up with your accounts by setting up reminder alerts and making at least the minimum payment every month. This can help keep your payment history in good standing and help you avoid late fees. And remember, if you find yourself in a position where you can’t make payments, the CFPB recommends contacting your lender.
- Keep an eye on the amount of credit you’re using. Your available credit is another major factor in calculating your credit score. Are you stocking up on food, medical supplies and cleaning materials? If you’re charging these purchases to your credit cards, try to keep the balance across all of your loans fairly low—at or under 30% of your available credit. Better yet, pay it off every month if you can.
- Apply only for credit you need—and consider the impact on your score. Applying for new credit typically creates a hard inquiry on your credit reports, and the new account can lower the average age of your credit history. Both of these factors can have a negative impact on your credit score. However, getting a new line of credit also may help you reduce your overall credit utilization, which usually helps your credit score.
Are Credit Scores Calculated Differently During COVID-19?
The way some credit scores are calculated has changed during COVID-19. Take the VantageScore 3.0 credit score, for example. Its scoring model has been adjusted to minimize the possibility of negative effects related to the pandemic.
You also may see some differences in the way lenders are reporting accounts impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to the credit bureaus. Your lender may report the account as having made an on-time payment if you were given the option to skip or defer a payment as part of a special accommodation program. Or your lender may choose to pause reporting on the account because you’re experiencing a COVID-19-related hardship.
Check Your Credit Reports
It is always a good practice to double-check that your accounts are documented correctly and that your credit reports are accurate:
- Sign in to your account and check the status. For example, a note on the account might state that it’s in forbearance.
- If you’ve suspended payments, make sure no payments are due.
- Double-check that your lenders aren’t mistakenly marking your accounts as delinquent.
- Dispute inaccurate information on credit reports.
Checking your credit reports can help you make sure your lenders report your accounts correctly. And accessing your credit is especially important during COVID-19. That’s why the three major credit bureaus are temporarily offering free weekly online credit reports through April 2021. You can request your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you notice an error on a credit report, you can dispute it. Your first step? Contact the credit reporting agency—Equifax®, Experian® or TransUnion®—that shows the error. It’s also a good idea to contact the company that provided the information. The CFPB offers a helpful “how-to” guide and template you can use to write an email or letter to dispute the error.
And with CreditWise® from Capital One, you can access your free TransUnion credit report and weekly VantageScore 3.0 credit score anytime without negatively impacting your score. You can even see the potential impacts of financial decisions on your credit score before you make them.
We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.