Credit card surivival tips during the financial crisis
Credit card companies are beginning to lower consumer credit limits and cancel cards as a result of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com, warns people against using a credit card to get by on necessities such as medicine and groceries.
He said there are two major scenarios where a credit card could either be cancelled or the limit potentially cut.
One is if someone is bumping up against the credit limit, making payments late or if the credit score has dropped a lot.
The first fix, Rossman said, is to speak up at the first sign of trouble. He said let the credit card issuer know what's happening. Many of them have good hardship programs. They may work with you, possibly offer grace periods on making payments or even lowering interest rates. But the thing is, you have to go to the issuer. If the credit card issuer tracks the person after he or she has fallen delinquent, chances are the issuer is not going to be as generous.
The second scenario is more of a hit to someone's credit score. That would be dormant cards being cancelled. If someone has a card that has not been used for six to 12 months, that might be ripe for cancellation, said Rossman. So in this case, he said use the card, make a charge, pay it off right away. That will keep the account going, raise a person's credit score and give someone a backup emergency fund of sorts.
This can affect someone's credit score because how much someone owes is the second biggest category in a person's FICO score, behind payment history. A big part of how much someone owes is credit utilization — credit someone is using divided by the total credit available to someone.
Rossman said, for example, if someone owes $4,000 and has a $10,000 limit on a credit card, the ratio is 40%, which is good. But if someone has a card cancelled that had a $5,000 limit and that person still owed $4,000, that 80% utilization looks risky to credit card issuers.
Dormant cards are at risk at being cancelled entirely. In terms of getting a limit cut, Rossman said that's most likely going to happen to people who are in distress. If a bank thinks someone is not going to pay them back, they can cut the limit as much as they want or close the account and ask for payment right away. But Rossman said typically they won't do that unless someone is 60 or more days late with a payment.
So he said if someone is approaching a credit limit, pay it off if possible or speak up and get help from the bank. Many are being very generous these days about hardship programs.