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Protecting Your Credit During the COVID-19 Crisis

Your credit is one of the most important items when it comes to your financial health. Even in the best of the times, maintaining healthy credit can be an overwhelming task, let alone during the economic uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the coronavirus disease. Business closures, government-mandated curfews, stay-at-home orders, unemployment claims, and more have resulted in financial hardship for many.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, it’s important that your health, safety, and families are your top priority. Fortunately, the United States Government, regulatory agencies, banks and lenders, and credit bureaus have all taken steps to try and help you make sure your credit isn’t impacted during this unprecedented time.

CREDIT REPORTING CHANGES UNDER THE CARES ACT

On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law placing special requirements on how your payment history is reported to the credit reporting bureaus. If you are affected by the coronavirus pandemic, you have the option to enter into an agreement with your creditor for relief in deferring payments or modifying loans.

Your account standing will impact how creditors report your account under the CARES Act:

  • If you are delinquent and you bring your account current, it must be reported that you are current on your loan
  • If you are delinquent and you make an agreement, your account will maintain that status until you are current
  • If you are current and you make an agreement to make partial payments, to skip a payment, or any other accommodation as covered under the CARES Act, it will be reported that you are current on your account – as long as you are meeting all the terms of the agreement.

Agreements under the CARES Act also apply to federal student loans. Payments that are suspended will be reported as if they were a scheduled payment made by the borrower. More information on how the CARES Act affects student loans can be found at this link.

STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO PROTECT YOUR CREDIT

  1. Obtain a copy of your free annual credit report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), each of the three major credit reporting bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report. Despite the credit reporting guidelines covered under the CARES Act, it’s important to stay on top of your credit to identify mistakes before they negatively impact your credit score.

    To order your free annual credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
  2. Ask your creditors and lenders about options. Though the Federal Government has stepped in to provide relief, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve many creditors and lenders have put their own hardship programs in place to help you navigate this difficult time. For any active accounts you have including credit cards, student loans, mortgages, auto loans, or other, reach out to find out if they have a program in place to help you with payments and provide an accommodation.

    For a list of all major financial and non-financial institutions and the relief programs they offer, please visit here.
  3. Be wary of scams. In an unprecedented time where people are trying to find reliable information on how to protect themselves, there are others who see an opportunity to exploit that fear. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has shown a significant increase in coronavirus-related scams since January. It’s vital that you be diligent in finding reliable information from a trustworthy source. Falling victim to a scam can have long-term implications for your credit and can even result in identity theft.

    We’ve compiled a list of the most common coronavirus-related scams and how to protect yourself in this post on our blog.
  4. Budget and pay what you can. After you have checked to see if you are eligible for relief under the CARES Act or through a specific hardship program offered by your creditor or lender, do your best to continue making at least the minimum monthly payments. Continuing to make payments is the best route to ensure that your credit will not be negatively impacted during this time.

    If you are experiencing hardship due to job loss or an income reduction, the CARES Act has outlined additional unemployment benefits be provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. To verify your eligibility, please visit here.
  5. Use your stimulus check. Eligible U.S. taxpayers may qualify to receive up to $1,200 from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act. Not every taxpayer is entitled to a payment, and it’s important that you check your eligibility to see if you qualify, and for how much.

    For those that qualify, use your stimulus check to pay your monthly payments, pay down your debt to increase your DTI ratio, or use the money to cover your day-to-day essentials so you don’t need to use revolving credit accounts which increase the amount of debt you owe.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES YOU CAN USE

We understand the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty about the future. To help you find the most accurate information as it relates to your mortgage, personal finances, the home buying process, and more, we’ve compiled our COVID-19 Resource Guide to provide more information.

For additional questions about your credit, or for general questions, please reach out to one of our certified mortgage experts today.