Credit Cards


Over 81% of Americans have some form of a credit card. The average number of credit cards held by a single person is 3.7. In times like these, credit cards can be both a life raft and an anchor. Here are our thoughts on how to handle these accounts during the COVID-19 crisis.

Our advice here will be different than during better days. High balances and overuse of revolving credit can badly damage your credit even if paid on time. And interest charges can often be insurmountable. For the best advice available on handling your credit card accounts, as well as most other debts, we highly recommend that you download a copy of the National Consumer Law Center's award-winning book, Surviving Debt, which NCLC is making available for free during the COVID-19 crisis. That book contains much of the practical advice offered here. And take a look at our prioritizing payments section for additional help.

Proper use of credit may help keep you afloat if you are out of work, or awaiting unemployment compensation or a stimulus check. And today, unlike in a stronger economy, it can make sense to pay just a minimum payment on a credit card to hold on to the cash you need for more urgent purchases and bills.


What should I do about my credit card accounts?

Unless you have contacted your lender and have an agreement to defer or skip a payment(s), you should try to make at least the minimum payment owed. If you were not already past due on the account and have decent credit as of now, missing a payment could negatively impact your credit score and cause the lender to close or limit your account.

Compared to other debts and expenses, credit card debt should be a relatively low priority. If you do not pay it, you do not face foreclosure of your home, eviction from your apartment, or repossession of your car. And if you are having trouble paying your basic necessities – food, electricity, medicine, etc. – you should generally not make significant payments on your credit cards instead of your other requirements. In fact, it may be a smart choice to put necessities on your card (or use your credit card for a cash advance) if that is the only way to free up cash to make your mortgage, rent, car, or utility payments.

Many banks and credit card companies have recognized their customers’ need to rely on credit during this crisis and have set up an easy process to request a larger credit limit. If you need such an increase and are able to continue paying your account, you should contact your bank or credit card company at the link below.


What is the worst that may happen if you cannot make payments on your credit card account and the bank did not agree to defer your payments?

You should know what happens (and does not happen) if you fail to make your credit card payment and the bank has not agreed to that. If you make the minimum payment, you will be avoiding late charges and your credit report will show your payment was on-time and current. See Protecting Your Credit. The bank cannot raise your interest rate and you will not lose the ability to use your card.

If you stop making even the minimum payment, credit card missed payments will show up on your credit report first as overdue, then 30 days overdue, then 60, then 90, etc. Your credit score will likely take its biggest hit when the card is 30 and then 60 days overdue.

After the card is 60 days overdue, the credit card company may increase the interest rate on your card even for existing charges that you have already made.

The company may revoke your card privileges so that you cannot use the card any more.

At 180 days, the company is likely to “write-off” or “charge off” your debt. This does not mean it will stop trying to collect on the debt or that you do not owe on the debt.

At some point the credit card company or a debt buyer will decide whether to sue on the debt, but this may be years after you stop paying on the card. Moreover, particularly if the amount is relatively small, you may never be sued on the credit card debt. If you are sued, and you contest the lawsuit, the creditor may drop the case.


What if my credit card is already in collection, over 90 days past due, or “charged off”?

Credit reporting agencies and credit scores classify these three past due events as a “major derogatory,” which is effectively as bad as it can be for your credit. If your account is already at least 90 days past due, paying the debt should be the lowest of your priorities as the impact on your credit score will not be as substantial. The mere presence of a “major derogatory” item in your credit report will impact your score regardless of whether the debt is brought current.

Additionally, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) requires the credit reporting agencies to remove all negative reporting of a credit card account seven (7) years from the date the debt first became past due. For example, if you were late on your account in 2013 and never caught up, that chargeoff or major derogatory item must come off of your credit report and score in 2020. Thus, there is likely little reason to pay off older credit card debts if the idea is to improve your credit.

You also may not benefit from paying off or bringing current a credit card account if you are already at your credit limits on your various other revolving credit cards. This is because your “utilization” of credit – the percentage of how much of your credit limits you are using – generally makes up 30% of your credit score, while payment history makes up generally 35%. Thus, you will not likely see a dramatic increase in your credit score if you bring an account current unless other parts of your credit history and profile are favorable.


What about collection calls and threatening letters?

You may find that delinquent credit card debt is your biggest worry because those are the telephone calls and threatening letters you are receiving the most. However, other than damaging your credit score, there is little else credit card companies and their debt collectors can do besides harass you to pay. They don’t have better tools, unlike a mortgage company that can take your house. Do not let debt collectors make payment-priority decisions for you. Take a look at our debt collection materials for help.


Immediately contact the credit card lender if you cannot pay your credit card(s) because of COVID-19

Immediately contact your credit card company if you do not think you can pay your credit card bill on time. Reputable credit card companies are assisting borrowers who cannot make their credit card payment because of the COVID-19 crisis. But most of these companies are doing so only when the consumer contacts the company directly.

Banks and credit card companies are regulated by federal and state banking agencies. Various government agencies have issued guidance and applied pressure to encourage banks and credit unions to be flexible during this time and work with customers affected by COVID-19. Lenders are under significant governmental, media, and practical pressure to cooperate with impacted consumers to prevent them from defaulting on their accounts or suffering credit report damage.

It also makes sense that banks should accommodate customer hardship requests, as the present crisis is not a reflection of individual consumer credit performance and lenders do not want to cause further account defaults.


If you contact the credit card lender and get a waiver, deferral or agreement to skip a payment(s), your credit report cannot be harmed

Importantly, the CARES Act, passed by Congress, prohibits negative credit reporting for consumers who receive a waiver, deferral, or other relief from their lender. For example, if you request to skip three monthly payments (a 90-day deferral), and the lender agrees, as most will, the lender and credit bureaus are not allowed to report that deferral as a negative or derogatory event or payment status. That means the deferral cannot harm your credit score. However, if you do not contact the lender and confirm its agreement, the missed payments may hurt your credit score.


What Options do credit card lenders offer?

Different lenders are offering various relief for borrowers experiencing trouble with making loan payments (see below section for how to determine who your lender is). Some lenders are open about the relief, detailing it on their webpage, while others provide you details on a “case-by-case” basis when you contact the company. Here are some examples of what companies are doing:

  1. Payment deferrals (skip a payment(s)). The lender allows you to miss (usually between 2 and 4) payments without a late charge or credit damage.
    With a deferral, you won’t have to make a payment unitl your extension period ends. Afer the extension period ends, you resume making your regularly scheduled payments.
    Depending on your agreement, your account may still accrue finance charges such as interest. You should ask that the lender waive the interest that would otherwise be charged.
  2. Payment reductions. If you have a minimum payment that is too large for you to pay, you may ask your lender to allow you to make smaller payments.
  3. Waive late fees. You may ask the lender to allow you to pay late, but without incurring any late charge.
  4. Lower your interest rate. If your credit card company won’t allow you to skip a payment or waive your interest charges, you should ask for a lower interest rate. The bank may agree to reduce the rate for a number of months. You might also qualify for a better rate if your credit has improved since you applied for the card.


What should you do when you contact your lender for assistance?

Keep notes about when you asked, how you contacted the credit card lender, who you communicated with, and what relief you were given. If relief is granted, ask that confirmation be sent you by email, text, or U.S. mail. If you cannot get some written confirmation, then write your own letter back that confirms who gave you the relief and what specifically was given. Keep a copy of that letter or any confirmation you receive. In the future, you may need that confirmation. Remember, you are modifying an existing written agreement, and you want to have written confirmation of any modification. The written confirmation also helps reduce any miscommunication about what relief you were provided.

If you are given relief, you should also check to be sure that the information being reported by credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) is accurate. If you are being reported late even though you are complying with the relief plan, then you need to send a written dispute to the credit reporting agency that includes a copy of the written documentation of the relief you were given.

The Wirecutter suggests several good questions that you should make sure to ask when contacting your credit card lender:

  • Does your company offer a forbearance/hardship program?
  • What are the criteria to apply for forbearance or hardship?
  • Is there a difference between forbearance, deferral or hardship?
  • How long does it take for a forbearance/hardship to take effect?
  • Will fees (i.e. late, overdraft) be assessed while I’m in forbearance/hardship?
  • How is interest being calculated while I’m in forbearance/hardship?
  • How is my account reported to the credit bureaus while I’m in forbearance/hardship?


Below is a list of resources available from different credit card companies:

Keep in mind that for almost all credit cards, you need to contact the lender to request assistance. You may call the number on the back of your card, or use the website or telephone number below.

With the large number of consumers contacting banks and lenders, it may take some time to get through by phone. Many lenders allow you to request deferral by online form. Others have online “chat” functions that usually provide quicker access than by telephone. Lenders also suggest that customers use their mobile or online accounts (or sign up for one) in order to obtain relief without having to speak to an agent.

You may also find helpful suggested telephone numbers from other consumer websites such as Dial a Human.

Company & Assistance Offered COVID-19
American Express

The issuer is working with customers on an individual basis to lower your monthly payment, waive late fees, and/or temporarily lower your interest rate.

Cardmembers who experience financial hardship as a result of coronavirus can reach out to Customer Care Professionals by calling American Express's financial hardship program at 866-703-4169. You are also encouraged to use the 24/7 live-chat through your online account or mobile app. The issuer is working with customers on an individual basis for waiver of late fees or return check fees, waiving interest charges for a period of time, reduced monthly payments or a temporary interest rate reduction.

However, anyone who calls and requests relief will have their account frozen until paid off.

Apple Card (Goldman Sachs)

You can enroll in the Customer Assistance Program to skip your Apple Card payments for March and/or in April without incurring interest charges. Use Apple's easy messaging link to enroll.

Bank of America

Will defer payments and issue refunds on late fees upon request. Can now apply for a payment deferral online.


Including numerous co-branded cards. See

Offers a “range of measures,” including possibly skipping your March and/or April credit card payments, waiver of late fees and finance charge adjustments.

Also enabling customers to request a temporary credit limit increase if they need it. Use the tools on its website and mobile app whenever possible.


Online portal to receive applications requesting a deferral or extension of payment. Recommends transacting online or via mobile banking. Credit card service number is 1-800-239-5175

Capital One

Offering financial relief options upon request, including limiting fees, providing minimum payment assistance and offering deferred payments. Ask the agent not to report any missed payments to the credit bureaus. Access your account online or by using the Capital One Mobile app. Call 1-800-227-4825.


May defer payments, waive fees or extend payment dates. Use the phone number listed on your monthly credit card statement or the back of your card. Or call 1-800-432-3117.

Citi Bank

Citi is offering credit line increases and “collection forbearance programs,” which enable you to temporarily skip your credit card payments.

Call 1-800-950-5114. You can also message in the Citi Mobile App, use its digital tools or automated response system.


(many store brands such as BJ's, Bed Bath & Beyond, Camping World, Big Lots, Orbitz, Ann Taylor, Gordmans and many others). See

Offering help such as fee and/or finance charge reductions, or payment waivers and alternative payment options. Offering payment programs to help. Call the phone number on the back of your credit card or 1-800-675-5685.


Offering assistance to customers who contact the company related to payment timing, fees, and late payments. Call 1-800-497-2816 or message through the Account Center online or in the mobile app.

Fifth Third Bank

Offering to waive the monthly payment requirement on Consumer Credit Cards for up to 90 days with no late fees. Interest will still accrue. Call 866-601-6391. You may also request hardship assistance by logging into the online banking and sending a secure communication through the Messages center with “COVID-19” in the subject line. The lender will respond to you at the primary email address associated with your account, but it may take 3 to 7 days for a response.


Offering assistance with your payments including deferral or reduction of payments during the hardship, and waiving late fees for 60 days from the time you enroll. HSBC is also protecting your credit by preventing negative credit reporting. Log on to the company’s Personal Internet Banking and send a secure BankMail message or call 866.949.2351.


Up to 90 day payment deferral upon request.  Will suspend late fees.  For payments that are current, contact (614) 480-6522. For payments that are past due, contact (800) 372-7725.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Customers can request payment deferments and late fee refunds. You can apply for a credit limit increase through the mobile app.  You can also eMessage or call 1-800-336-3767.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union

Allowing those who are not paid 30 days ahead or are more than 30 days delinquent to skip one payment at a time during this event. To skip a payment, use PenFed’s online request form. You may also call 1-800-247-5626.


Offering deferral of payments for up to 90 days with no late fees, and waiving or refunding fees (such as overlimit fees). May request Hardship Payment deferment through an online form. Or call 1-888-762-2265.


(many store brands such as Sams Club, AmazonPayPal, BP, Chevron, Gap, American Eagle, JC Penney, TJ Maxx and many others). See and

Customers facing financial hardship should contact the company and engage with the customer service teams to discuss options including waiving fees and charges across credit card accounts. May also consider increasing credit limits to assist with purchasing power. Login at website to access the account and use digital assistant chat. Call 877-295-2080 or the number on the back of your store card.


Allowing credit card customers to skip a payment without penalty and waiving late charge fees through April. Use the mobile app or call 1-800-738-2615.

Truist (formerly BB&T and SunTrust banks)

Offers payment relief assistance through an online request form, at BB&T payment relief or SunTrust payment relief.


Special payment assistance programs for eligible members includes a 90-day credit card payment deferral.  Call 855-764-4617.

US Bank

Waiving fees and offering payment deferral programs for those who cannot keep up with their payments. It is also offering credit limit increases consumers who are interested. Call 1-888-287-7817.

Wells Fargo

Options include fee waivers, payment deferrals between 30 and 90 days, and other expanded assistance. Call 1-800-219-9739.



Additional Resources

Below are some additional resources to learn more about credit cards and COVID-19.

  1. Major Consumer Protections Announced in Response to COVID-19 (NCLC):
  2. National Consumer Law Center’s award-winning book, Surviving Debt, which NCLC is making available for free during the Covid-19 crisis.
  3. How to Get Legal Assistance (NCLC):
  4. Protecting your finances during the Coronavirus Pandemic (CFBP):