How to manage your credit cards during a crisis

Written by
Jennifer Doss
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Crisis can strike when you least expect it. Some crises are personal – a job loss or medical emergency, for instance – and some are beyond your control – a global pandemic or economic recession. In any case, a crisis can be a scary time for your finances, but taking some smart steps can help you manage your money well even during uncertain times. In particular, when it comes to managing your credit cards, there are a number of small things you can do to make sure you come out ahead financially.

Credit cards can be incredibly valuable tools during tough times, but they can also be dangerous if you’re not careful with how you use them.   While you may need to rethink your credit card strategy and shift how you use yours cards, there’s usually no need to cancel or stop using them altogether. Simple changes, like checking in with your bank to see what assistance they may be able to offer, or transferring an outstanding balance to a credit card offering a 0% intro APR period, may be all it takes to easily navigate through a difficult situation.

Feeling panicked about your finances during a crisis is normal. There are a number of steps you might want to pursue when it comes to your credit card when you’re in danger of losing your job. However, if you’re still on stable financial ground and are just wondering how to best manage your credit cards until brighter days appear, we have some tips.

First off…

Talk to your bank

From waiving late fees to lowering monthly payments, there are a number of options banks can provide during times of crisis to help you stay financially afloat. If you’re worried about your finances, talk to your bank. You never know what assistance they may be able to offer.

If you’re simply wondering if your cards are still working as well for you as they were before, it’s still advisable to talk to your bank. There may be some new perks banks are offering which could benefit you. 

It might not make a lot of sense to use a travel card as your go-to card during a crisis, as travel may not be something you’re pursuing at the moment; however, some travel card incentives could remain valuable to you even when you’re close to home, so keep an eye on the fine-print benefits of your cards.

Which leads us to our second tip…

Adjust your credit card strategy

It’s important to evaluate your credit card strategy every now and then to make sure your cards are best meeting your needs. What worked great for you six months ago might not make as much sense today.

Say, for example, you have a cash-back credit card and a travel rewards credit card, and you regularly use both depending on your purchases. Well, perhaps six months ago you were predominately using your travel rewards card in order to save up rewards for a summer vacation which, unfortunately, might have been postponed due to a personal or wider crisis. It doesn’t really make sense to continue using that same travel rewards card as your go-to card, unless of course you are okay waiting to redeem your rewards until you’re able to take your next vacation. If you’d like to cash in on rewards sooner though, it probably makes sense to shift the majority of your purchases to your cash-back card.

Or, perhaps, you regularly use a tiered or rotating category credit card, but you aren’t really spending in those specific categories right now. It might make more sense for you to shift your spending to a flat-rate rewards card, so that way every purchase you make earns you bonus rewards, and not just those in particular categories.

Don’t be afraid to open a new credit card account

There’s nothing wrong with shifting your credit card strategy to make it meet your current needs. In fact, we highly recommend that you do so, especially if you have multiple credit card accounts. And if it financially makes sense to do so, it can even be a great move to open a new account.

Take the tiered/rotating category and flat-rate card example. Maybe you only have a rotating category credit card, but want to use a flat-rate rewards card on all your other purchases so that you can be sure you’re earning bonus rewards on all purchases you make. This can be a great move. For example, the CardName discontinued and the CardName discontinued card work very well together. The Freedom Unlimited® earns 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining; and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. The Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards and 3% on dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery services) and on drugstore purchases. Additionally, the Freedom Flex℠ earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate, and Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% on all non-bonus spend (Flex℠ earns 1% on non-bonus spend). Both are no-annual-fee cards, so it makes good sense have them both and to use them simultaneously, using the Unlimited® card for everything that doesn’t earn bonus rewards with the Flex℠ card. (Information related to Chase Freedom FlexSM has been collected independently by CardRatings and was neither reviewed nor provided by the card issuer)

If you want to take things one step further, you may even consider adding the CardName discontinued into the mix, when and if the time is right. This card earns 5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases, $50 Annual Chase Travel Hotel Credit, plus more. And points are worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Travel. What’s really great if you have all three of these cards is that rewards from all cards can be pooled under your Chase Sapphire Preferred® account, making all points worth 25% more when redeemed through Chase Travel. Plus, the Sapphire Preferred® card has a solid welcome offer for new cardholders: 60,000 points once spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership; worth $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Travel.

Consider a 0% intro APR offer

Another great option to consider is opening a credit card with a 0% intro APR and/or balance transfer offer. This is especially valuable for anyone on shaky financial ground who needs a little extra time to pay off a purchase or outstanding balance interest free.

The CardName discontinued, for example, offers a lengthy 21-month intro period of 0% APR on balance transfers (from the date of your first transfer and made within the first four months) and 12 months on purchases from date of account opening. This gives cardholders ample time to transfer an existing balance and pay it off before regular RegAPR APR applies. Be aware of the balance transfer fee: BalanceTransferFees

CardName discontinued is another great example. It offers an 18-month intro APR period on balance transfers (then RegAPR). The nice thing about this card though is that it offers cash-back rewards. Cardholders can earn 1% cash back when making a purchase, and an additional 1% once paying for those purchases (just make sure you pay the minimum balance due on time). Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.

Be mindful about your purchases

If a crisis is keeping you home more – whether that’s a broken foot or a global pandemic – online shopping can become a significant temptation. New big screen TV anyone?

Credit cards are a great way to get rewarded for purchases, but if you’re spending beyond your means, interest charges will likely end up canceling out any rewards you earn. So when it comes to managing your credit cards during a crisis (and always), be wise. Don’t make a purchase just because it’ll pocket you more rewards; especially during a time of crisis, it’s important to be mindful about the money you’re spending. Again, the goal here is to come out financially ahead, not swimming in new debt.

Jennifer Doss
CardRatings Executive Editor

Jennifer Doss is a credit card analyst and the executive editor of She has worked as both a print and online journalist and has over a decade of experience in the media industry. Her published work has covered a broad range of topics, from...Read more

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