NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Some consumers could lose access to their credit cards just when they need them the most.
As COVID-19 takes a toll on the U.S. economy and unemployment surges, lenders could cut credit card limits or close cards entirely.
Synchrony, which issues credit cards for stores like American Eagle and TJ Maxx, could lower limits as “the environment evolves,” according to a spokesperson.
While a spokesman for Discover denied it was reducing limits for existing customers, he noted the company could tighten credit lines for new members.
“From the bank standpoint, it’s all about risk, and they’re nervous they may not get paid back,” said Ted Rossman, an industry analyst for CreditCards.com and Bankrate. “It’s really bad timing for consumers.”
Rossman said companies can slash limits and cancel cards without warning. It’s happened before.
During the recession, 20% of credit card lenders cut limits for borrowers with prime credit scores, according to a 2008 Fed Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey.
The same survey found 60% of card companies reduced credit lines for cardholders with subprime credit scores.
“During the financial crisis, over 10% of credit card bills went completely unpaid,” Rossman said. “Credit cards are unsecured debt… they are often the first bills to go unpaid.”
Rossman said lenders could take action if customers are nearing their credit limit. He suggested asking for leniency if consumers find themselves in financial turmoil.
“The card companies want to work with you. Some of it is nice, it’s goodwill, the right thing to do. Some of it is very practical, they want some of your money rather than none of your money,” Rossman said.
Starting a conversation with a lender worked for Monica Hatcher, who is a single mother struggling to make ends meet.
Hatcher said she told her lender she would pay her balance if they could waive her late fees. The pitch worked.
“I’m trying to be as stress free as possible,” said Hatcher, who stated she is now trying to pay most of her expenses with cash, as opposed to credit.
Rossman applauded the strategy.
“If you can, try to pay down your balance and gain some separation between your credit limit and how much you owe,” Rossman said.
Rossman also suggested bringing inactive cards back to life since those are prime candidates for cancellation.
He said paying off small purchases can help improve credit scores and keep cards open.