How Do I Protect My Credit During Natural Disasters?
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 a natural disaster or other major event like the coronavirus pandemic?
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 sooner rather than later for keeping up with your payments. 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 a 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 in a situation where you’re waiting for unemployment benefits.
In these instances, an emergency fund may only go so far. A credit card or loan could help cover the gap, but be careful not to end up overextended on credit, as it could impact your credit score.
Approximately 30% of your FICO® Credit Score is based on your amounts owed–which includes credit utilization or the ratio of your credit balance to credit limit.1, says Experian. 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 on your account.
Did you know?
If you’re seeking a new credit card to help cover the cost of repairs or living expenses, be sure to find a credit card that works best for your financial situation. You can easily compare Discover credit cards to other industry-leading cards to find the right rewards program and eligibility criteria for you.
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® offer free weekly credit reports through December 2023 in addition to the free annual credit reports dictated by federal law, according to the Federal Trade Commission. 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 free credit score access (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 in seconds with an on/off switch either on the mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers.2 We’ll monitor your Experian® credit report every day and alert you when there’s a new credit card, mortgage, car loan, or other account in your name.3 Activate for free.
Recovering from a natural disaster can take days, weeks, months, or 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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