COVID- has changed everything, including your credit card. In an effort to mitigate risk, several major issuers lowered the limits on some consumer’s accounts and other issuers halted or reduced their zero-interest balance transfer offers. 

Issuers can lower credit card limits any time they like. The only requirement is that they notify affected cardholders via letter at least days in advance of an impending change. And balance transfer offers are typically introductory, meaning they’re made available to new customers as an enticement to open an account. An issuer can choose to change or stop new cardmember offers any time they like.

It’s no secret that COVID–related issues have caused millions in the U.S. to struggle financially. And banks are for-profit institutions, which means they have a responsibility to shareholders to avoid extending credit to an individual with a higher-than-average risk of default.  

“Our priority is serving our existing customers in ways that are most relevant and beneficial at this critical time. While we are not currently offering balance transfers, we’ve added other new benefits and offers that reward customers in the categories where they are spending the most and introduced enhanced financial relief programs for customers that need more payment flexibility,” said an American Express spokesperson in a statement to Forbes Advisor. 

Although it may be harder to get an increased credit limit or a save money on interest with a % APR offer in these uncertain economic times, some issuers have chosen to extend certain considerations to cardholders.

“In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many issuers are supporting their customers by offering flexible bill payments and by waiving late fees and interest. Banks are taking a balanced approach informed by economic data, which is consistent with legal and underwriting obligations to ensure credit lines match consumers’ ability to repay,” said Jeff Sigmund, spokesperson for the American Bankers Association in an email to Forbes Advisor.

But reduced credit limits and a scarcity of balance transfer offers may ultimately hurt consumers who are relying on these methods as a cushion during trying economic times. For those who have lost their jobs or seen their wages cut, a credit line may help bridge the gap between paychecks. A reduction in available credit would reduce purchasing power at a time when someone may need it the most, as well as have a negative impact on their credit score.

In an April Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices, a moderate number of banks reported tightening their standards when it came to issuing new lines of credit. This includes both credit limits and lending to subprime customers, which is typically defined as having a FICO score in the fair range, which is generally between and . 

Here’s what you can do if your credit limit is lowered or you need relief from high finance charges.

There are several reasons an issuer can give for lowering your credit limit. Some of these include:

Not using your card enough. Even if you’ve had the card for years and used it responsibly, an issuer may still decide to lower your credit limit, or in some cases close the account entirely due to inactivity.Late or skipped payments. If you consistently pay late or miss payments entirely, it can flag to the issuer that something may have changed in your financial circumstances. Using too much credit. If you regularly hit the limit on your card, it can greatly increase your credit utilization ratio, which in turn will have an adverse impact on your score. Ideally, you’ll use % or less of your available credit. Unfortunately, if your bank lowers your credit limit, your utilization ratio will go up even further.  

If any of these scenarios apply to you, contact your issuer. If you know you have a good credit score, you might be able to make a case for having your previous limit restored. If you’re having trouble making payments on your card, see our master list of credit card issuer COVID- policies to see how your bank might be able to work with you. And make sure you’re using your credit cards for at least the occasional purchase.

Coronavirus-related scams abound, and it’s possible there may be some fraudulent credit-related activity dragging down your score. You can check your credit report weekly for free through April via AnnualCreditReportm. You’re entitled to a copy from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus Experian, Equifax and TransUnion once every week after April , you’re entitled to a free report once every months.

If you see anything wrong, such as an account you don’t recognize or charges that don’t look familiar, you can place a fraud alert on your credit files, which acts similarly to a freeze, while you work to have any incorrect information resolved.

If an issuer lowered the limit on one of your cards, this will affect your overall credit utilization ratio. If you can’t get that card’s limit restored, try asking to have the limit increased on a card issued by a different bank.

In other words, if your limit is lowered by $, on one card, try to get your limit increased by $, on a different card, to mitigate the overall impact. Keep in mind that it’s best to reduce any balances you’re carrying on the card with the lowered credit limit so your credit utilization on that particular card doesn’t get too high.

If you have any credit cards that you rarely use, now is the time to dust them off and put them to work. Try adding a small recurring payment, like a streaming subscription or a monthly utility bill to keep the account active. Even something as small as treating yourself to a coffee on the go might be enough card activity to signal that you still use that line of credit. 

Personal loans typically have lower interest charges than many credit cards. There are multiple fintechs that offer lump-sum loans that circumvent the need for a traditional bank loan. It may be the cheapest way to give yourself a bit of a financial cushion until the economy changes. Or, if you can’t get approved for a % APR offer on a credit card, consider a credit card with a lower interest rate than the debt on your current credit card. Saving some money is better than not saving any money.

In the current climate, banks are taking steps to mitigate risk. Unfortunately for consumers, those steps may include lowering credit limits.  With some proactive steps you can help avoid this happening to you, but even if your limits get lowered there are steps you can take to minimize the damage to your credit.


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