The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was passed in 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act will not forgive your credit card debt or force your credit card issuer to forgive your debt. However, some provisions of the act may provide some relief from credit card debt.
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The CARES Act Doesn’t Include Credit Card Debt Forgiveness
We may think of COVID-19 as a thing of the past, but many relief measures are still in place, especially if you can demonstrate hardship due to the pandemic.
How to Get Help
These measures may not be advertised, so you’ll have to ask. Here’s how to do it.
- Contact your lender or credit card issuer. Use the phone number on your card or check the issuer’s website
- Ask about relief packages or repayment arrangements they have available for those needing debt relief due to the coronavirus pandemic. You can also inquire about hardship programs that are not connected to COVID or ask if they will lower your interest rate or minimum monthly payment
- Determine whether you are eligible for a relief program
- Make sure to get a written or electronically printable copy of any agreement
Relief programs will not include outright forgiveness of debt. They may provide improved interest rates, lowered or deferred minimum payments, waivers of late fees or other fees, or an extended payment plan.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has more on COVID-related credit card debt relief at cfpb.gov.
Is the CARES Act Still in Effect?
The CARES act is a broad measure providing for stimulus payments, business relief, tax benefits, relief measures for debts owed to the government, and more. These are some of the benefits.
- Direct subsidy payments
- Tax rebates to families
- Moratorium on foreclosures and evictions
- Forbearance for federally guaranteed (FHA, DA, VA) mortgages
- Extended unemployment assistance
- Credit score protection for borrowers who sought relief from creditors
The CARES act was supported by other government initiatives, notably an extended moratorium on student debt payments and by matching relief efforts from private creditors.
The student loan pause was scheduled to end on December 31 and be replaced by loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 per borrower. However, the loan forgiveness plan has been delayed by lawsuits. Payments are now scheduled to resume either 60 days after the lawsuits are resolved or on September 1, 2023 — whichever comes first. All borrowers will receive notice before payments resume.
The CARES Act remains in effect, though some provisions — like the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions — have expired. Many relief efforts from private companies are also still in place.
Bank Relief Options
Many major banks and financial institutions still offer COVID-19 assistance or payment relief. Smaller banks and credit unions may have similar programs. It’s always worth asking!
- Bank of America has handled several coronavirus-related relief programs. They no longer handle loans under the Paycheck Protection Program but accept applications for PPP loan forgiveness. Bank of America also offers a credit card hardship program and a mortgage loan relief program.
- Chase Bank offers a range of coronavirus-related programs, including payment assistance for credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans. Chase has a credit card hardship program that can reduce your monthly payments. Call the number on the back of your card.
- Capital One offers assistance to private and business customers experiencing hardship due to COVID-19.
- Citibank has closed out its COVID-specific relief programs, but general hardship programs are available. Credit card customers can call (800) 347-4934, while loan and banking customers can call (800) 374-9700.
- Navy Federal Credit Union offers loan extensions, deferred payments, credit card limit increases, student loan forbearance, fee-free transfers, mortgage forbearance, and penalty-free certificate withdrawals to eligible members.
- USAA offers assistance for those who are having problems making payments on auto and property insurance premiums (call 800-531-8722), life and health insurance premiums (800-531-8068), mortgages (855-430-8489), deposits, credit cards (call the number on the back of your card) and loans (855-764-4617).
- Wells Fargo is willing to pause mortgage and home equity loan payments for those facing hardship due to Covid-19. They also have a general hardship help center and a specific credit card hardship program.
Federal Government Assistance Options
Many federal agencies offer programs that may help you improve your financial capacity and relieve debt. Some of these programs are COVID-related, while others are not.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) does not provide direct assistance to consumers. Still, it provides a useful information page with links to government resources for housing and mortgage assistance, student loan information, avoiding scams, resources for specific groups, etc.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has funded a telehealth assistance program to provide an affordable option to Americans stressed by healthcare costs. You cannot apply to these programs: the FCC funds healthcare providers. You will need to apply to a provider offering this assistance.
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) does not provide assistance directly to consumers. They support consumers by encouraging banks to work with and help customers experiencing difficulties. They provide consumer protection and encourage small business lending.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not everyone’s favorite government agency, but it delivered one of the most effective COVID relief programs: the economic impact payments. No further payments are expected, but if you were entitled to a payment and didn’t get one, visit the Recovery Rebate Credit page. The IRS also administers the Child Tax Credit, employer tax credits, and other COVID-related relief programs.
- The U.S. Department of Labor offers services and support for workers and employers dealing with the impact of “Long COVID,” which can last for months or years after the initial infection. They also offer additional services and information on employment and unemployment insurance. The Job Accommodation Network has resources available.
- HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) offered COVID-related forbearance programs for holders of FHA mortgages and has funded rental forbearance programs in some states. HUD-funded programs are administered by state agencies. Check with your state’s housing agency for mortgage or rental assistance programs.
READ MORE: Treasury.gov has a roundup of CARES Act policies and protections
Help from the Credit Bureaus
The three national credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — have extended a program that lets you check your credit report at each of the agencies once a week for free. The program will now run until December 31, 2023. Normally, everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can access them at annualcreditreport.com.
The Federal Trade Commission provides more information on the program.
Check out this video to learn more about the CARES Act.
Credit Card Debt Relief Options
Credit card companies will not forgive your debts. However, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has encouraged banks and credit card issuers to work with creditors and debt collectors while experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID or for other reasons.
Different credit card issuers have different programs and policies. These may not be published. You will have to contact your card issuer and ask. Here are some questions to ask.
- Can they lower your monthly credit card payment or defer your payment?
- Can they waive or refund late fees so you don’t have to pay the full amount?
- Can they reduce your interest rate? Lower interest charges would, in turn, lower your monthly payments, especially if you do not increase your spending.
- Will they increase your credit limit? Be careful with this one. A higher credit card limit could give you more breathing room but could also lead to you accumulating more high-interest debt.
- Can they set up a longer-term payment plan to allow you to pay off your debt in a more manageable way?
- Can they waive or delay reporting late or missed payments to the credit bureaus?
Do not expect the credit card issuer to cancel or forgive your debt, but they may be willing to work with you. It will be easier to provide evidence of hardship due to factors beyond your control, like job loss, medical issues, divorce or the impact of the pandemic.
Credit Card Companies With Hardship Programs Available
If you plan to ask your credit card company for debt relief, you need to know who to ask. There are two types of credit card companies.
- Credit card networks, like Visa and Mastercard, link credit card issuers with merchants and facilitate transactions.
- Credit card issuers are typically banks like Chase, Citi, Bank of America, or Capital One.
Credit card networks do not provide hardship programs or debt relief. If you’re asking about these programs, you need to ask your card issuer, not the network!
We’ve talked about bank programs above, but two credit card companies — Discover and American Express — are both issuers and networks. Here’s what they have to offer.
- Discover has a hardship program for cardholders affected by job loss, medical costs, unexpected expenses, or other hardships.
- American Express also offers hardship programs that vary depending on location. Check their hardship program page or call the service number on your card.
Don’t expect outright forgiveness, but the company will work with you to improve your situation.
Consider Debt Consolidation
Debt consolidation involves using a new credit line to pay off several old ones. This can replace multiple monthly payments with a single one, simplifying your financial life, and you may be able to reduce your interest rate. There are two popular ways to do this.
- A personal loan can help you pay off multiple credit card debts. This can reduce your credit utilization rate, which will boost your credit. If your credit is weak, getting a loan with a good rate may be difficult, but there are debt consolidation loans for bad credit.
- A balance transfer credit card lets you transfer several balances from other cards to a new card with a zero-interest promotional period. If you can pay the balances off within that period, you can close the debts with no interest. You will need good credit to qualify for the best balance transfer cards.
If you consolidate credit card debt, it is important to stop using your cards until you have paid off your consolidated debts. Piling on new debt will only make your situation worse.
READ MORE: Ways to consolidate credit card debt
Not Eligible for Forgiveness? Other Debt Relief Options
Explain how the other options of debt settlement, debt management, and debt consolidation can be viable for those who do not qualify for credit card debt forgiveness.
- Credit Counseling is provided by nonprofit agencies. Counselors can help you evaluate your finances and choose the best way to deal with your debts. Credit counseling agencies also offer Debt Management Plans, which consolidate your debts and work for better terms.
- Debt Settlement involves negotiating to settle a debt for less than the amount owed, usually with a lump-sum payment or a commitment to make payments over a set term. You can negotiate yourself or use a debt settlement company. Your credit score will initially drop but will rebound once you’ve completed the plan. It’s also possible that the forgiven will be considered taxable income.
- Bankruptcy is an option if you have no way to pay your debts. The court can eliminate unsecured debts like credit card debt. There will be a significant impact on your credit, and in some cases, the court will order the sale of assets to pay your creditors.
All of these methods have advantages and disadvantages. Do some research before making a decision!
Will There Be Additional Stimulus Payments in 2023?
No further stimulus payments have been confirmed for 2023. Currently, no bill is being considered that would provide for stimulus payments, so further payments are unlikely. You can still claim the payment if you qualified for a previously authorized stimulus check but did not receive it. The IRS has a web page explaining how to do this.
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The Bottom Line
The U.S. government will not pay or forgive your credit card debt. Credit card issuers may be willing to work with you to reduce your payments or adjust your interest rate to help you pay your debts.
Some federal programs, both COVID relief programs and ongoing programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), can help you save on other expenses and make paying your credit card debts easier.
Credit card debt is a legal obligation incurred under a legal contract. You cannot be jailed for not paying credit card debt, but the creditor or a collection agency can take legal action to compel you to pay. If they win, the court can garnish your wages to pay the debt.
If you have incurred legal, legitimate credit card debt, there are two ways to avoid paying. Debt settlement can reduce your debt, and bankruptcy can eliminate your debt. These methods have pros and cons, so study them carefully before deciding.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus passed by Congress in 2021 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a follow-up to the CARES Act. The law provides economic stimulus payments, expanded unemployment benefits, tax breaks, and other assistance.