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How to Help Your Credit Score Recover Faster

Credit is not immune
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect, touching nearly every aspect of our lives. Our credit is no exception. Sudden job losses, pay cuts, furloughs and more have made a significant impact on many American’s ability to pay for essentials like house payments and rent, auto payments, student loans, medical loans, and even food and utilities.

As we begin to come out of the shelter-in-place and return to work, school, and our daily lives, many are concerned with their credit and their future ability to purchase a home, car or qualify for good interest rates. There are ways to keep your credit healthy and to heal damaged credit. The following are some best practices to get your credit in shape.

Get your free credit report
Stay up to date on your credit reports. During these times, each of the three major credit bureaus are now offering free weekly online reports through April 20201 (available at annualcreditreport.com). Look and see exactly which accounts may be negatively impacting your credit. Consider adding a consumer statement to your credit reports. You can add a brief 100-word statement (up to 200 words in Maine) to your credit reports to explain your financial situation or a missed payment, for example.

Take a serious look at your budget
Budgeting is helpful to keep credit card debt down, where possible. Take a look at how much you’re making and what you’re spending. Assign every dollar you will be bringing in to a budget category. Identify places where you may be able to trim usual costs. Try to prepare for unexpected expenses so that these don’t get added to your credit card debt.

Ask for help & pay what you can
If you are unable to make even the minimum payment, contact your lenders and creditors and see if any assistance is available. There may be options to defer payments or negotiate different interest rates. Many creditors understand the impact of the pandemic and are offering assistance.

If possible, pay what you can. Ideally, you’ll pay your credit card bill in full every month. If credit cards aren’t paid in full every month, added interest payments can prolong debt payments. If you’re not able to pay in full, then aim to pay whatever you can, at least the minimum payment if possible. Not making a payment at all could further impact your credit standing. Try to avoid late payments. Paying at least minimum payments on time will immensely help your credit score.

Consider a balance transfer
If you have a growing credit card balance that you’re unable to repay at this time, then consider seeking out a balance transfer option. With a balance transfer, you would move your debt to a card that offers a lower interest rate on that balance. But watch out for balance transfer fees or other costs associated with a transfer.

The goal of a balance transfer is to eliminate any extra interest payments on your current credit card debt. Instead of allowing your credit card debt to snowball out of control with high interest rates, you can at least halt the growing debt burden for now.

Although these low-interest rates are typically temporary, they can buy you the time you need to get back on your feet. Once you are able to, move forward with eliminating credit card debt from your life for good.

Forbearance
If you can’t make payments now, forbearance may be an option. Under normal payment forbearance, lenders allow qualifying borrowers several months of suspended or reduced loan payments to help them recover from a financial hardship. After that forbearance period, the borrower is expected to repay all excused payments, plus interest and possible fees, in a lump sum or in several installments.

Qualifying for forbearance under ordinary circumstances typically requires the borrower to prove financial hardship, to show that the hardship is temporary, and to give evidence that they'll be able to resume regular payments at the end of the forbearance period.

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not "ordinary circumstances," however, so many lenders are approving forbearance for people experiencing COVID-19 hardship. Furthermore, these institutions are working with borrowers to aid them at the end of the forbearance period to work out repayment terms or loan adjustments as necessary to prevent further hardship.

Specific forbearance programs vary by lender, and you must connect with each of yours to request forbearance. Follow instructions on your lender's website. Customer service operations at many lenders are swamped, so using their digital channels is usually the best option.

As reflected in your credit report, any of your accounts placed in forbearance under the CARES Act will be "paused" in the payment status they are at when forbearance begins. If the account is current and in good standing, it will stay that way even if payments are reduced or suspended during forbearance. If an account is, say, 30 days past due when forbearance starts, it will remain at that status (and not rack up further delinquency) during the forbearance period.

Help is becoming available
If you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or student loans, relief is coming.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are overseen by FHFA, have recently instructed mortgage servicers to establish a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for borrowers who have suffered hardship due to the pandemic. Under this program, consumers who have experienced hardship can report their circumstances to their lenders and may be granted this relief period. Visit FannieMae.com and FreddieMac.com for more information on this relief program.

The Department of Education has paused payments through September 30, 2020 because of disruptions caused by COVID-19. Visit StudentAid.gov/coronavirus and ed.gov/coronavirus for the latest updates.

You are not alone
Millions of Americans are out of work, and many are struggling due to the pandemic. If this is you, make it a priority to contact your lenders and creditors to explain your situation and see if any accommodations can be made. In some situations like COVID-19, it’s possible that lenders and creditors may have special assistance available to reduce the risk of impacting your credit standing. Some creditors or lenders may waive late fees or offer short-term loans, and some may provide the opportunity to make reduced payments, interest-only payments, or no payments for some period of time -- a practice known as forbearance. Keep in mind, however, that accounts in forbearance can still be reported as late or missed payments by lenders and creditors to the three nationwide credit bureaus.

Being diligent with your budget, credit monitoring, making payments on time and asking for help will be a big factor on your credit health.

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