We’re in the middle of a one-two punch of a global pandemic combined with a global economic meltdown. We’re all stuck at home, and many of us have had one or more people in our household get laid off or have their hours severely cut. And there’s currently no way to know when this will all be over – estimates are ranging pretty far into the future at this point, making everything feel increasingly uncertain.
So, it’s not really surprising if you’re not spending a lot of time thinking about your credit score right now. Unfortunately, you probably should. When all of this does eventually blow over (and it will), you want to be in as good financial shape as possible so you’re able to bounce back quickly.
That in mind, here are our top 12 tips for paying your bills on time during the coronavirus pandemic:
- apply for credit before you need it,
- make minimum payments on everything,
- juggle your debt,
- make a list and then call everyone on that list,
- switch to non-credit products where possible,
- set calendar reminders to review all bills twice a month,
- apply for any assistance you qualify for,
- hang on to your cash reserves as much as possible,
- create a strict budget and stick to it,
- eliminate as much discretionary spending as possible,
- file your taxes (if you have a refund coming), and
- do not touch your retirement savings.
But let’s start with the basics.
Why pay your bills on time?
Even a single late payment on a loan or credit card can have a detrimental impact on your credit score. And in Canada, that information stays on your credit report for 6 years.
Being late with a payment by 1 month usually won’t trigger a bad report since late payments are generally reported the month after they are missed, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The longer you miss making a payment, the greater the impact it will have on your score. If you do miss a payment, do your best to get that paid up as quickly as possible.
12 strategies for paying bills on time even when money is tight
But in times like these, it can be hard to see how you’ll be able to keep up with everything. So here are 12 tips to get you ahead.
Apply for credit before you need it
It sounds nonsensical, but it’s solid advice. If you think there’s any chance you’ll need more credit before your financial crisis is over, try to secure it as soon as you can. If you wait until you actually need it, there’s a better chance you won’t qualify for it.
If you have outstanding high interest debt, talk to your bank now and see if you can get a low interest debt consolidation loan, or apply for a low interest balance transfer credit card.
Make minimum payments on everything
If you can’t pay all your bills in full, don’t be tempted to pay one in full and let the rest slide. Do what you can to pay the minimums on everything, so you don’t end up reported for a delinquent payment.
Juggle your debt
In dire circumstances, borrow money from one loan or card to pay another repeatedly as a short term solution. It’s not pretty, but it will help you stay on top of minimum payments and help keep your credit score from taking a hit.
Make a list and then call everyone on that list
Sit down and make a detailed list of any service, utility, bank, or lender who you’ll owe money to in the near future, then take the time to call or contact everyone on that list.
With the current financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a chance you’ll be able to defer payments, set up payment plans, get reduced interest rates, or get other forms of relief on your:
- credit cards,
- property taxes, and
- possibly other things that haven’t been announced yet.
Keep your eye on the news – there are new programs being introduced by all levels of government to help Canadians weather this financial storm.
Switch to non-credit products where possible
If you can manage it, one way to keep your credit score from taking a hit from missed payments is to switch to non-credit products as much as possible. Get a prepaid cell phone, prepaid credit cards, and other such products where you generally pay in advance.
Set calendar reminders to review all bills twice a month
If you’re seriously concerned about missing a payment, set a calendar event every 2 weeks to remind you to do a quick review of your accounts. You can’t leave this to just once a month, else you’ll run greater risk of messing up your budget or having something slip through the cracks.
Apply for any assistance you qualify for
All levels of the Canadian government are introducing new aid and stimulus packages to help bolster the economy and help us all get through the pandemic as best we can.
There have been changes to EI, new emergency programs introduced, and a growing number of programs to help small business owners stay afloat. You can see the details of the emergency response plan here.
Do some research and find out what programs your family might qualify for, then apply for everything you can. Take full advantage of anything that’s available.
Hang on to your cash reserves as much as possible
If you have some cash liquidity, don’t be tempted to dump that on your debts right now. Hang on to it and use it to cover any minimum payments you can’t otherwise manage, and to help avoid increasing your debt load. To help with this…
Create a strict budget and stick to it
Most people who read this site probably already have a budget, but it’s time to tighten those purse strings. Set a strict budget and do your best to stick to it. It’s never fun, but it will help you bounce back faster when the world gets back to normal.
Eliminate as much discretionary spending as possible
Of course, part of setting a strict budget is to cut as much discretionary spending as possible. Are you currently subscribing to multiple streaming services? Cancel all but one. Is your cell phone plan pretty extravagant? Time to switch to the most basic plan you can handle.
Run through all your subscriptions, services, and other discretionary spending and go lean. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot about financial discipline that will help you better manage your money once this crisis passes.
File your taxes (if you have a refund coming)
While the government has extended the tax filing deadline to the beginning of June, you should buckle down and get those done as soon as you can if you think you have a refund coming.
This could help bolster your cash reserves and give you a bit more of a buffer to get through this without increasing your debt load.
If you owe taxes, well…maybe just wait for the deadline and see if there are other changes or possibilities for debt relief in the pipe.
Do not touch your retirement savings
It’s never a good idea to start withdrawing from your retirement savings before you actually retire, and now is a particularly terrible time to do that. If you haven’t been watching, the stock market has taken a beating since the coronavirus pandemic began, and your retirement savings are probably down significantly right now.
Hold fast. If at all possible, just leave that alone and let it grow back over time as things get back to normal.
It’s a pretty dark and chaotic time for everyone right now, and we’re all going through some pretty crazy financial stress. We hope these tips will help you regain some semblance of control and to feel a little less overwhelmed by current events. Hold fast.
What are your top tips for managing your finances when money is tight?
Do you think people should even bother worrying about their credit score in the middle of a global pandemic?
What’s the absolute craziest way you’ve juggled your debt?