How Do I Protect My Credit During the Coronavirus Pandemic?
Key Points About: Protecting Your Credit
If you think you’ll miss or submit late payments, call your creditor to discuss repayment options.
Knowing how much money you have in your account versus how much needs to go out should help you stay ahead of your debts.
Checking your credit report regularly can help you identify suspicious activity and may protect you from fraud.
Protecting your life, the lives of your loved ones, and your property are clearly the priority when a disaster or crisis occurs. But, what can you do to protect your credit and personal finances during the Coronavirus pandemic or a natural disaster?
You’ll want to stay vigilant and protect your credit after a crisis or natural disaster, as scams, fraud and other threats may arise. You’ll also want to make sure that the stress of managing expenses during a crisis doesn’t lead to decisions that could negatively affect your credit score.
Consider a few of these tips to help protect your credit:
Communicate with your lender
If you’re overwhelmed, it’s possible that some of your bills could slip through the cracks. But, paying late or missing a payment can negatively impact your credit score.
Fortunately, your credit card company or lender may be able to help. For example, Discover may have payment assistance programs available to help customers during hard times if they reach out for assistance.
In other words, keep your creditors in the loop if you’ve been affected by a disaster. Discuss your options for keeping up with your payments sooner, rather than later. And, make sure they have a current phone number and email address for you on file so they can get in touch with you easily.
Revisit your budget and track your spending
Natural disasters or something like the current pandemic could throw a wrench in your budget if you’re not able to return to work right away. You also could run into trouble if you’re footing the bill for evacuation costs, home repairs or basic living expenses that aren’t covered by insurance, or while you’re waiting on reimbursement from your insurer. You may also be waiting for unemployment benefits.
Your emergency fund may only go so far in these instances. A credit card or loan could help cover the gap, but be careful not to end up overextended on credit.
Approximately 30 percent of your FICO® Credit Score is based on your amounts owed – which includes credit utilization, says Experian, which is the ratio of your credit balance to credit limit.1 The higher this number climbs, the more it could hurt your credit score.
Revising your budget and keeping track of what you spend may help protect your credit after a natural disaster. You can also set up credit card alerts to maintain awareness of your spending and balances.
Credit card alerts also can be helpful for protecting your score in another way: They might clue you in to potential scams and/or identity fraud after a disaster if you see unauthorized activity.
Check your credit report regularly
It’s generally a good idea to check your credit report regularly. During the Coronavirus pandemic, Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® are offering free weekly credit reports in addition to the annual free credit reports dictated by federal law. You can learn more at AnnualCreditReport.com.
In addition to checking your credit report, keep an eye on your score as well. Use your credit card’s credit score access for free (like Discover’s Credit Scorecard*) if it’s offered. And, check your card for other security features that can help you protect your credit after a natural disaster.
Discover, for instance, offers the Freeze it® feature on their credit card products, which allows you to freeze your account to prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers in seconds with Discover’s mobile app or website.2 Discover cardmembers can also activate free alerts to know when any new credit, mortgage, car loan or other account shows up on their Experian credit report.3
Recovering from a natural disaster can take days, weeks, and months— sometimes even years. In the meantime, taking action to avoid damage to your credit can help make your journey back to normalcy a smoother one.
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