Mounting bills and debt: Tips for negotiating with banks and lenders during the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on people’s finances all across the U.S. Many have lost their jobs. Unemployment claims have soared. And the nation’s economy shrank by 4.8% last quarter as the virus struck.

But for many of us, that doesn’t mean the bills have stopped piling up on the counter.

There may be a way to get some relief if you’re willing to negotiate.

“How you negotiate really depends on the type of debt you’re looking at,” Wall Street Journal reporter Veronica Dagher told WTOP. “If you’re looking at something like a credit card debt, ask if it’s possible to skip this month’s payment without interest being added, which is known as a deferment.”

Dagher says a deferment shouldn’t hurt your credit score, and added that some cards, such as Apple Card, did that for March and April.

“If your credit card company is not willing to do that, you can ask to skip a payment with interest accruing, and that’s known as a forbearance, or get other fees removed, like a late fee or an annual fee,” Dagher said.

“All those little things can add up and make your bill less in the long run. You can also try to get a lower interest rate on your credit card.”


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Car loan payments are hanging over many people’s heads. But Dagher said a lot of lenders are offering relief programs to their customers.

“Deferred payments, waived late fees, loan extensions are all some of the responses they have due to the coronavirus,” she said. “So get in touch with your lender, explain your situation.”

There’s a caveat to that, however.

“If you’re asking for a loan, just make sure you’re clear on the terms and conditions,” Dagher said. “It’s common that some of these skipped payments are tacked on the end of the loan period. So you want to keep in mind that interest is going to keep accruing during that deferral period.”

She recommends confirming with the lender what that interest amount will be, how much you owe and get everything in writing.

“You don’t want to get hit with a huge balloon payment at the end of a couple months,” Dagher said.

Medical bills are another drain on many people’s financial situation — especially for the unemployed.

“If you lost your job, first try to explain that to your provider before you get the care,” Dagher said. “But don’t assume just because you got a bill, it’s not negotiable — you can negotiate. Call your provider’s office, see if they can lower the total amount, to accept the Medicare rate, or just work out some sort of payment plan with you.”

“They want to get paid,” she said.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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