We’ve all read those listicles of Credit Card Rules You Should Never Break, and Guidelines for Responsible Credit Card Use. The team at BestCards has even written a few, including our article 10 Common Credit Card Traps to Avoid. Despite our continued belief in this advice, there are times when even these “rules” may need to be broken.
Try as we might to prepare, no one can fully predict an emergency – the coronavirus outbreak is proof of that. Many may find themselves struggling to make ends meet and turning to credit cards for help. In these moments, know that it’s okay to put the following guidelines aside to get through hard times.
1. Don’t rely on credit cards in an emergency.
For obvious reasons, this is often the first of the credit card best practices to go in an emergency situation. In reality, not everyone has an emergency savings account. This means you may need to lean on your credit line to get through, and as long as you do so mindfully, you can minimize the damage. (Then once you’re in the clear, make sure to revisit that emergency savings idea.)
2. Only purchase what you can afford in the moment.
This is one of the foundational best practices for credit card use, because it affects many of the other rules on this list. It’s hard to “afford” anything when you temporarily lose income, but you still need a way to cover your monthly expenses. Of course, an emergency is not the time to throw your budget out the window – but a credit card can help you pay for your essentials while you wait for the government’s stimulus check to arrive.
3. Minimize your credit utilization.
Most credit card experts recommend that you keep credit utilization under a certain amount – generally around 30%. This can become quite difficult in an emergency. Bills and essentials add up quickly, particularly if you need to stock up for a few weeks of self-quarantine. Though the utilization ratio plays a big role in your credit score, it’s not considered a negative mark on your report. This means even if you have to break this rule now, it doesn’t have to hurt your score in the long-term.
4. Avoid carrying a balance month-to-month.
If you lost your steady source of income due to the coronavirus and need to rely on your credit card, it goes without saying that you’ll probably need to break this credit card rule. Paying off your bill in full is essential to keeping interest at bay. Yet in the face of an epidemic, a little interest may be worth it if you need to carry a balance for a while.
5. Make more than the minimum payment.
If you do need to carry a balance, it’s best to pay as much as you can realistically afford to minimize interest. Yet as with the previous rule, this isn’t always possible—or practical – during an emergency. When operating on limited funds, it may actually be wiser to pay just enough to avoid defaulting your accounts. That way, you can stretch your funds a bit farther until you regain your income.
6. Save up your credit card rewards.
When it comes to credit card best practices for rewards redemption, you usually want to save up and cash in for the maximum value. If you have a travel rewards card, that usually means redeeming for a plane ticket or vacation package. However, with travel bans and safer-at-home orders in place, these points might better serve you as cash back – even if you lose some value.
7. Never miss a payment.
Credit card usage guidelines consider missing a payment the biggest no-no, and it’s not hard to see why. Missed payments have the most significant impact on your credit score, and defaulted accounts can linger on your credit report for years. In the case of the coronavirus, however, many credit card companies have chosen to waive late fees. While this is a worst-case-scenario, it can give you a little more wiggle room in the short-term.
8. Pay off debt as soon as possible.
If you already had debt before this all began, it’s understandable if paying it off doesn’t take priority at the moment. In these times of national economic upheaval, the focus is on taking care of your household’s immediate expenses. This may push back your debt repayment plans, but will ease your current financial burden.
Credit Card Rules You Should Still Follow
Despite pulling back on these best practices for credit card use, there are still a couple rules you should follow in an emergency. The first involves asking for help. Now more than ever, it’s important to contact your financial institutions if you’re struggling with payments. Many issuers and banks have initiated relief measures for those struggling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes waiving late fees, extending payment deadlines, and even increasing credit lines.
It’s also a good idea to choose an emergency credit card. Whether this means going through your wallet or applying for a new card, it helps to have a card that can help you get through the crisis with as little damage as possible. If you’re applying for a new one, the best emergency credit cards have long 0% introductory periods and low regular APRs.