Credit Card Payment Forbearance vs. Deferment: What’s the Difference?

Young woman sets up a credit-card payment deferment.
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During times of financial hardship, it makes sense to cover essential living expenses like food, your rent payment, or a mortgage before you worry about other bills. There may even come a time when credit card payments need to be pushed to the back burner. If you could just get some breathing room with your bills for a few months, you could pick back up with repayment where you started.

Unfortunately, skipping your credit card payments can damage your credit score. Not only that, but you could wind up paying exorbitant late fees, and your debt isn’t going away on its own.

With that being said, it’s possible your credit card issuer might be willing to let you defer payments on your credit cards for a limited time due to the financial impacts of COVID-19. Card issuer programs vary, but you may be surprised at the assistance you can receive just for asking.

Credit Card Deferment vs. Credit Card Forbearance

For the most part, current credit card assistance programs come in the form of deferment or forbearance.

Credit card deferment and forbearance let you suspend the payments on your credit card (or cards) for a limited time. While both of these terms are typically associated with student loans, they can also apply to credit cards at the moment due to COVID-19.

Credit card deferment describes a situation where you are able to skip your payments for a limited time, yet interest does not accrue on your balances.

Credit card forbearance, on the other hand, describes a situation where you are able to skip payments on your credit card for a limited time, yet interest does accrue.

If you sign up for a credit card relief program, chances are good you’ll be signing up for a forbearance program where interest continues accruing on your balance. This can be helpful for your finances if you truly just need a break from your monthly payments for a few months, but it does mean the balances you owe will increase during that time.

Also, note that some credit card programs may allow you to continue using your credit card even when you’re not making payments.

While having access to your line of credit can help you keep up with living expenses and other bills, keep in mind that using your credit card for purchases while your payments are deferred will cause your balance to grow even more.

Credit Card Issuers Offering Relief From Payments

As we mentioned, major credit card issuers have rolled out their own programs to help consumers recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19. Many are offering deferred payments for borrowers who request them, but other types of help may be extended as well.

Here are some of the major card issuer programs you should know about.

Chase

Chase began offering its consumers deferment of its credit card payments for up to three months as a result of COVID-19. However, the fine print reveals that they would still be charging interest according to the terms of your account. For this specific program, any late fees applied to your account would be refunded according to Chase, but cardholders would have to pay any past-due payments on their account once the three months were up.

American Express

American Express also rolled out a program to help its customers deal with financial hardship, which noted they may be able to lower your monthly payment, provide relief from late payments, or lower your interest rate. This program has the potential to last for 36 to 60 months following enrollment. This program also allows you to continue using your American Express credit card provided you stay within your credit limit. 

Citi

Citi has also announced measures to help its credit card customers, including waived late fees and deferred minimum payments for up to two months. Citi will also report your account as current to the credit bureaus during this waiver period provided your account is in good standing when you apply for help.

Bank of America

If you’re a Bank of America credit card customer, you may also request a deferment of your payments through the bank’s Client Assistance Program. The exact assistance you can qualify for varies, but Bank of America will also refrain from reporting negative information to the credit bureaus if you qualify for the program.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo is letting eligible customers defer payments on its credit cards or loan products for up to three months, although you do have to request this assistance. They are also waiving all fees on credit cards and personal lines of credit during the deferment period, including credit card annual fees if your fee was scheduled to post to your account before September 30, 2020.

Interest will not accrue on your Wells Fargo credit card balance while you’re in deferment. 

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Deferment and Forbearance Programs

Pausing your credit card payments could be your best option in times of financial hardship, but there are some pros and cons to consider before you move forward.

On the upside, getting a break from credit card payments for even a few months could help you get financially back on track after suffering a setback. Not only that, but setting up deferred payments could also save you from having late payments reported to the credit bureaus in some cases, which could help you prevent damage to your credit score.

But the downsides of deferred payments are obvious. Your debt isn’t going away for starters, and you will still owe payments (including any past-due payments) once the deferment or forbearance period ends. Credit card interest will also accrue in most cases, so your debt balance will be higher even if you didn’t make any purchases.

To summarize, credit card deferment and forbearance can temporarily pause the pain involved in carrying credit card debt, but it’s important to note that the benefits may only last a few months. This may be enough time to get back on your feet and get caught up on other bills, however, so asking a card issuer for this type of help could still be worth it. 

How to Ask for Credit Card Deferment or Forbearance

Most credit card forbearance programs are implemented as the result of a financial crisis such as the financial impacts associated with COVID-19. If you can’t make the minimum payment on your credit cards, you can start the process by checking your card issuer’s website to see if they offer any information.

If you are unable to apply via online chat or an online form, you can also call into your credit card issuer and ask for a temporary pause in payment or some other type of assistance. It’s possible you’ll be able to have your monthly payments paused or qualify for another form of help. Either way, you’ll have to ask to find out.  

Article Sources

  1. Wells Fargo. "FAQs for Personal Loan, Personal Line of Credit, Student Loan, and Credit Card Due to COVID-19." Accessed May 28, 2020.

  2. Chase. "COVID-19/Coronavirus Credit Card Relief." Accessed May 28, 2020.

  3. American Express. "American Express Financial Relief Program." Accessed May 28, 2020.

  4. Citi. "Citi Expands Assistance to U.S. Customers Impacted by COVID-19." Accessed May 28, 2020.

  5. Bank of America. "Coronavirus: Bank of America Client Assistance Program." Accessed May 28, 2020.