If you’re one of the thousands of homeowners who is struggling to pay your mortgage and bills right now, safeguarding your credit probably isn’t high on your must-do list. But if you want to make sure your credit stays good—or even improves—despite any economic difficulties, read on for some important updates and tips.
Government safeguarding credit?
There have already been steps taken to safeguard credit for those who enter into a forbearance program. Typically, “Payments that are skipped or only partially paid during a mortgage forbearance period technically violate the original terms of your mortgage loan agreement, so even though your lender agrees to the forbearance plan, they may report your payments as delinquent to the national credit bureaus,” said Experian. “However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act offers relief to borrowers who are seeking forbearance due to the coronavirus crisis but are worried about the impact to their credit: Mortgage accounts in forbearance as a result of COVID-19 cannot be reported negatively to the credit bureaus by lenders.”
Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) are attempting to take this safeguard even further, asking for protection to Americans’ credit outside of mortgages. They sent a letter “to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, inquiring about the actions they are taking to make sure Americans’ credit isn’t damaged permanently if they have trouble paying their bills on time during the crisis,” said Yahoo Money.
They wrote: “If American families and consumers are piled under a mountain of debt during this pandemic and once it ends, the country will struggle to emerge from a deep recession. This means that when the crisis is over, months of late or missed payments could add up to not just a mountain of debt, but a cratering credit score that takes away the shovel they might use to dig themselves out.”
So far, the progress consists of a letter from the trade group representing the three credit bureaus, which read: “The companies just received the letter from the Senators and are reviewing it now. We share the Senators’ concerns about how the crisis will impact consumers and we have taken actions to help, including providing increased free access to credit reports.”
Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, added, “We have also increased our training of banks and other creditors to help them understand their obligations under the law and to make sure they have tools to help consumers,” said Yahoo Money.
Assistance from the credit bureaus this far includes:
• Free weekly credit reports for all Americans for the next year “to help them protect their financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19,” said Experian. “The free reports will be available via AnnualCreditReport.com starting on April 20, 2020.”
• Equifax has eliminated “the need for hard credit inquiries when opening phone service, wireless phone contracts, internet service and pay TV service accounts.”
What to do if you’re falling behind
If you are struggling and are at risk of falling behind on bills, you may just want to run from the problem. Facing up to this kind of financial difficulty can be demoralizing. But, the head-in-the-sand approach doesn’t typically end well.
If there is a silver lining to this pandemic as far as personal finances are concerned, it’s that creditors seem to be more willing than ever to work with customers.
“Given the broad and unprecedented nature of this pandemic, financial service providers may update or revise their policies and practices depending on how the situation evolves,” said FICO. “It’s in your best interest to stay informed as you manage your credit health through this coronavirus outbreak. Before bill payments are due, you should contact your bank and other creditors as soon as possible to make them aware of your situation. Your lender will likely have procedures in place to work with customers impacted by this unique health emergency. In fact, several federal and state regulators have already issued guidance to lenders encouraging financial institutions to work constructively with affected consumers, small business owners and communities.”