Some credit card issuers are trying not to add insult to injury. A handful of credit card companies earlier this week announced that they are going to go easy on some fees that customers who have been affected by Hurricane Irene might rack up.
In particular, JP Morgan Chase on Monday told customers in an email that it would eliminate ATM fees between now and Sept. 4 for anyone in a hurricane-affected area. They also will forgive late fees on credit cards and loans and even early withdrawals on certificates of deposit. (Again, this is only until Sept. 4, so don't get too excited, but if your basement has been flooded, and an oak tree is sitting in your living room, at least you have some breathing room if you have a credit card payment that's due.)
The folks at Capital One, meanwhile, according to The New York Times, are "willing to work with customers to grant interest rate reductions and fee waivers, depending on their situations." And Bank of America told the Times that it was working with customers "to help them with their specific needs."
All of this is useful to remember for every credit card user, even if your only contact with Hurricane Irene was by watching it on the Weather Channel. Credit card issuers certainly enjoy their fees, but they recognize that it can be good business to give people a break. Sometimes it's to help attract new customers to an already-enticing credit card deal, like when they waive the annual fee during the first year, but on occasion, credit cards have waived fees en masse during historic natural and man-made disasters.
To see what we mean, let's take a quick trip down Memory Lane.
September 11 attacks (2001): In the immediate days and weeks after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksburg, Penn., a tragedy that unnerved the entire country, most major credit card companies made it clear that they would waive late fees to consumers who weren't able to send in their credit card payments in a timely matter. This wasn't just because everyone was shell shocked; mail service around the country was delayed. Not that they likely needed much persuading, but credit card issuers were also likely listening to the Federal Reserve, which at the time urged credit card issues to be lenient to consumers.
Hurricane Katrina (2005): "People in a crisis are not thinking clearly. Their emotions take over, and that's not a good place to be when it comes to your finances," Deb Outlaw, a CPA and financial planner in Dallas, told the Associated Press at the time. Many credit card companies appeared to agree with that sentiment. The Associated Press reported back in September of that year that the credit card company MBNA Corp. would give hurricane victims a two-month payment holiday and a break from cash advance and late fees. A spokesperson for VISA also said at the time that most banks issuing Visa credit cards were expected to "offer more lenient terms to hurricane victims."
Haiti earthquake (2010): The 7.0 earthquake that occurred on Jan. 12 of that year led to Americans pulling out their credit cards and sending donations to the Haiti relief effort. After the Huffington Post mentioned that credit card companies make an estimated $250 million a year from fees from charitable donations, credit card companies, including Discover and American Express, began announcing that they would waive their fees associated with any donations going to Haiti. Discover also used their rewards program to do some good. They said that they would let cardholders donate their Cashback bonus dollars to the Red Cross, and if they did, Discover would send matching funds. Bank of America said they would waive any fees related to the donations if the customer requested that. All you had to do was ask.
That last point is instructive. Asking your credit card issuer to waive a late fee, and having it waived, may be as easy as just giving them a call and asking. Obviously, if you are a serial late payer, the answer probably isn't going to be one to your liking. But if you haven't made a habit of being late or asking your credit card for special favors, it's worth giving it a shot. Sometimes a basement flood has nothing to do with a hurricane and is simply a matter of bad plumbing, but that doesn't mean the homeowner isn't under a serious amount of stress. A crisis is a crisis--whether it makes the Weather Channel or not.