The COVID 19 pandemic has hit the average working American pretty hard, and for those who were living at or below poverty level pre-pandemic, this had been a devastating year. In addition to witnessing record numbers of Americans applying for unemployment for the first time ever, food banks and pantries seeing a significant increase in usage and need, everyday working people waiting in hour plus long lines for food, and an increase in social services applications for public assistance and/or EBT benefits, it would make sense that Americans might lean on their credit cards more heavily to help get them by. And that only speaks to those who had credit cards or access to credit, and I’m sure many did not. So all of us could have expected to see some changes in our payment and credit history while we struggled to navigate which bills to pay first or if any non-essential bills could be paid at all.
Well, what if you were one of the lucky ones? What if you were fortunate enough to stay employed during the pandemic where more than an estimated 22 million U.S. workers lost their jobs, and maintain at least all the minimum payments on your credit accounts? Guess what, your credit could still be negatively impacted and you might not even know it.
One of the first accounts I closed at the onset of the pandemic was my paid monthly crediting monitoring subscription. Not because I didn’t think it was important but in a list of bills to pay, keeping the house warm and eating were far more essential. I utilized a lot more free services like places that give you credit information at no cost, although some of the paid credit monitoring subscription companies say they are not that accurate, free is better than nothing. I reduced my cable/internet service bill by cutting everything but the internet. I utilized the free for all students lunch programs offered in our local school district to help ensure my children had nutritious meals to eat.
But despite everything I attempted to do to maintain a float through the worst economic crisis to hit our country in 100 years, my credit score managed to drop over 100 points in a single day if not for the free monitoring access, I would not have known it. Worse than feeling like the struggle to maintain a good score for nearly 30 years was all for nothing if you can lose 100 points in 24 hours by no fault of your own, this happened to me despite paying my bills. Uh huh, you read that, all of my bills were paid on time and yet Chase Bank decided to lower my balance despite maintaining my payments and not overusing my card. This one action lowered my credit score and eliminated my ability to move, which is something I was planning, and impacted my eligibility for much of anything else.
Despite what my number was pre COVID, I don’t know many people that could survive a 100 plus point drop and still obtain what they need – so imagine if your score was low to start and those already struggling to maintain. When I called number two of the ten largest credit cards issuers in the world, who jointly hold roughly 89% of the total revolving credit card debt in the United States, I was told “we thank you for being our loyal customer since nineteen ninety whatever, and we know you have not been late with your payments, but we monitor our clients credit every six months and if we happen to look on a certain day and don’t like what we see, we as a company have the right to make changes. But, again, thank you for your loyalty.”
Where does this make sense?
On one hand creditors and utility companies are spending millions making commercials dredging their support to their customers, sending out letters with links to apply for accommodations and adding empathetic messages to their call-in numbers, but on the flip side are lowering your score, charging more interest, closing accounts and still assessing late fees when half of adults who say they lost a job due to the pandemic are still unemployed.
Thankfully with the timely assistance from The Biden Administration by way of the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package and the recent March 2021 jobs report that states the U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs in March alone, the economy is looking better but it is not enough.
It’s time for these creditors and lenders who have always had the most to gain from the American people do their part as the government is doing theirs. They can start to really give back by implementing fair, reasonable, equitable and sensible lending practices across the board–but especially to those who need it and/or have shown loyalty. This is the time when companies need to demonstrate that they care for people and the economic future of our nation. They must make reasonable attempts at maintaining people’s credit during this unprecedented time. It’s not hard, maybe just start with empathy and end with reason.