COVID-19 Credit Checklist #2: Recover
, by myFICO Team
Protect your financial health and identity
Access to credit can be a lifeline if you've missed work or lost income due to illness or closures. Be proactive. Your lenders want to know if you are in jeopardy of default or falling behind in payments.
1. Assess where you are financially
When contacting your lender, be sure to give alternative phone numbers, a forwarding address and alternative ways to contact you. You'll also want to get their names and direct contact phone numbers if possible.
Call creditors directly using the contact number on your statements or the back of your card. This approach is safer than responding to an incoming email, which could be fraudulent. If you receive a call or email from someone who says they are your lender, never provide your financial or identity details to them without authentication. Contact your lender directly for loan modifications rather than going through a third party.
2. Ask your creditors about your options.
Negotiate a temporary payment plan or grace period during which no fees will be calculated or missed payments reported to the credit bureaus (also known as credit reporting agencies). Be sure to ask if delayed payment plans offered will mean you are responsible for the accumulated payments as well as the payment for that month — all at once.
For example, many lenders will work with you to set up a temporary deferred payment plan, or temporarily place the loan in forbearance — meaning you may get temporary relief from having to make full payments on your credit obligations. In the aftermath of a pandemic, card issuers may waive fees and penalties to customers or offer free credit checks or identity theft protection. Each lender is different, so consider contacting all your lenders. If a creditor agrees to a change to your credit agreement, such as a suspension of payments, ask to receive the specific terms in writing.
3. Request a copy of your credit report as soon as feasible.
This will give you a complete picture of your credit profile at the time of the outbreak and before any post-outbreak updates have been reported to the bureaus.
By having a copy of the credit report before it reflects any changes resulting from the outbreak, you may be able to make the case to a lender or a potential new landlord that the outbreak, not financial mismanagement, caused the fluctuation in your credit score.
As a provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to add a statement to your file housed at the credit reporting agencies about an account or status that you believe is incorrect that you have disputed, or to explain your personal financial situation. Add a 100-word statement explaining that you experienced a virus outbreak and how it affected your credit. Remember to revise or remove the statement as your situation improves.
4. Ask for help
Credit and financial nonprofits can be vital, objective guides to get you back on the road to financial recovery. Credit counselors can help you develop a budget for any emergency assistance funds and manage your creditors as your advocate. Many can help you get a copy of your credit report and even your FICO® Scores to see if there has been an impact. With over 100 counseling organizations participating, FICO® Score Open Access for Credit and Financial Counseling enables providers to share FICO® Scores with their customers. For a comprehensive list of participating nonprofits, go to www.ficoscore.com/where-to-get-fico-scores.
5. Restart the cycle: Reassess where you are financially
Have your priorities changed? Create a plan to build or restore an emergency fund or establish an emergency-only credit card that multiple family members are authorized to use. Restart the cycle by updating your credit snapshot document.
Your credit capacity and standing can be your lifeline to recovery following a major outbreak. With a little preparation, you and your family will be in a better position to get your life back on track more quickly.