Last updated on April 7th, 2020
As news of the coronavirus outbreak spread, a fear that people won’t have what they need in an emergency sparked a wave of panic buying. Yet as shoppers aggressively stockpile supplies, the dwindling resources and outright shortages spark even more fear. Moreover, overpreparing to keep up with the panic can quickly lead to maxed-out credit cards – not something anyone wants to worry about when facing financial uncertainty.
With self-quarantining, unemployment, and plummeting stocks due to COVID-19 becoming the new reality, many consumers are relying on their credit cards to handle the strain. Below are some strategies for paying with credit during the pandemic.
Choose an Emergency Credit Card
If you’re going to rely on credit cards to carry you through this uncertain economic time, interest rates will play a big role. Though the Fed has taken steps to combat the virus by slashing interest rates, your credit card APRs will likely only fall so much.
Related article: What Does a Federal Rate Cut Mean for Consumers?
One of the strategies you can employ to manage interest accumulation is identifying your lowest rate card. If you have more than one, these will become your go-to emergency credit cards that you rely on first. That way, if you’re forced to carry a balance for an extended period, you can limit the impact.
Consider Applying for a New Credit Card
If you’re in a position to apply for a new credit card, you can take advantage of new cardholder perks to help you through any financial strain caused by the virus. A welcome bonus can provide you with some extra cash, while a long intro rate can help you avoid interest if you need to carry a balance. Now, that doesn’t mean you should start panic buying more than you need to, especially just to meet a spending requirement. Some cards require you spend as much as $5,000 in the first three months to earn the welcome bonus.
Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from that don’t cost over $1,500 per month. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card is one that comes to mind, because it offers a nice bonus, 0% interest for 15 months, and 3% cash back on groceries.
You’ll only need to spend $1,500 in the first 3 months combined to get the $175 bonus, and there’s no annual fee. Even better, if your credit qualifies, you can get an interest rate that sits several points below average. If that’s not quite the right fit, you can explore other cash back cards as well.
Resist the Panic Buying Urges
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the grocery store on a worry-free day, let alone when you’re preparing to self-quarantine due to pandemic. Once you have your wallet prepared, you need to create a shopping strategy – one that doesn’t feed into panic buying and actually prepares you for the situation at hand.
Check Your Current Supplies and Prioritize
This means making a list of necessary items based on what you already have, and what you’ll realistically use while practicing social distancing. Already have some toilet paper at home? Maybe buy one package just in case, and save the rest for other families. All out of disinfectant? No need to panic and buy the last 3 bottles at the store; consider alternatives like bleach or white vinegar, which you can dilute and use to make your own cleaning wipes and sprays.
Listen to the Coronavirus Experts
In addition to following CDC preparedness guidelines, it’s also important to pay attention to the news during shortages like these. Many officials have pointed out that there’s no need to stock up on water, for example, as no power outages or contaminations are expected. Meanwhile, big box stores say their warehouses remain full, meaning these are just perceived shortages due to restocking strains on the supply chain.
It’s also worth noting that even cities under quarantine allow citizens to make trips to the grocery store when supplies are low. As of now, officials advise to buy enough supplies to last for at least two weeks – the length of time it can take to show symptoms of COVID-19.
Make Your Payments On Time
Whether you choose an emergency credit card from your current stash or apply for a new one, make sure to pay the bill on time. Even if cash is tight, it’s important to budget for at least the minimum payment each month. Otherwise, you risk harming your credit score, as missed payments have larger effects on your score than even credit utilization. Of course, paying as much off as you can will limit the interest you’ll be left with when the financial fever finally breaks.