piggy bank with maskGlobal pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak tend to, understandably, send people into a frenzy. When it comes to managing your credit cards during a crisis, though, there are a number of 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. If you’ve lost some of your income or fear you may lose your job, there are different steps you might want to follow. 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 may be able to 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. 

Some issuers, for example, recently extended welcome offer spending periods to qualified accounts, giving cardholders more time to reach spending thresholds required to earn a bonus. Others have added bonus categories and/or redemption offers, which is a huge perk for anyone whose spending habits have changed due to the current coronavirus pandemic. The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, for example, usually only allows users to redeem miles for travel purchases, but through Sept. 30, 2020, rewards can also be redeemed for eligible restaurant delivery, takeout, and music and video streaming services. Chase Sapphire cards are another good example. Cardholders can earn bonus points on all Instacart deliveries and pick-ups, including groceries, household items, pharmacy purchases and more on up to $3,000 spent, also through Sept. 30, 2020. This is in addition to bonus points earned on dining and travel purchases. (The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected by CardRatings and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card.)

It might not make a lot of sense to use a travel card as your go-to card right now, as chances are, you’re not making many travel purchases; however, incentives like these could make these cards valuable players, even though your spending habits may have changed.

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. 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, as cash rewards are likely much more useful right now than travel rewards. 

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 Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® work very well together. Both cards earn 5% on up to $12,000 spent at grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target) for the first year of card membership, 5% on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, and 3% on dining at restaurants 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 the 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.

If you want to take things one step further, you may even consider adding the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) into the mix, when and if the time is right. This card earns 2X points on all travel purchases, and points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. What’s really great if you have all three of these cards is that rewards from all cards can be pooled into your Chase Sapphire Preferred® account, making all points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel. Plus, the Sapphire® card has an almost unheard of welcome offer for new cardholders right now: 80,000 points once spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership; worth a whopping $1,000 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

The information related to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has been collected by CardRatings and has not been approved by the issuer of the card.

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 Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card for example, offers a lengthy 18-month intro period of 0% APR on new purchases and balance transfers. This gives cardholders a year and a half to pay off new purchases, or to transfer an existing balance (balances must be transferred within four months of opening an account) and pay it off before regular 14.74% - 24.74% Variable APR applies. Citi® Double Cash Card is another great example. It also offers an 18-month intro APR period, but only on balance transfers (then 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable)). 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

We get it… we’re all staying home much more, and well, online shopping has likely been a temptation for many. 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 you 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.

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