Survey: Millions worried about credit scores, missing payments due to pandemic

With the coronavirus inflicting financial damage to the country on a scale not seen for decades, a new survey suggests millions of Americans are worried about their credit scores and how the crisis could make it more difficult for them to pay their rent or mortgage on time.

The survey on credit scores from personal finance website WalletHub suggests that up to 87 million Americans — about a quarter of the country’s population — are worried that missed payments from financial hardship could drag down their credit score. Even more people said they believe missed payments should be excluded from calculating credit scores during the crisis, according to the survey.

“Middle-income individuals are more likely than high-income or low-income people to worry about their score,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez in a news release Wednesday, “which could be because they don’t have many assets to fall back on but also don’t qualify for government assistance with their expenses.”

The survey included responses from 300 people, whose answers were normalized by age, gender and income to reflect nationwide demographics, WalletHub said.

According to the survey, 86% of respondents said they believe credit scores should ignore any missed payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

With record-setting weekly unemployment levels continuing to mount across the country, including in the D.C. region, around 60% of Americans WalletHub queried said they were worried about not being able to pay bills during the pandemic.

The remaining 40% responded that they did not anticipate having trouble paying bills during the coronavirus crisis — confidence which Gonzalez said could be attributed to unemployment benefits or the federal stimulus plan.

The most common type of expense Americans expressed concerns about were mortgage, rent and monthly credit card bills. Overall, housing payments were the most frequently cited top concern.

Millennials were more likely to list their top financial priority as paying bills, while Gen X respondents appeared more oriented to save money wherever possible.

Nearly 44% of respondents said they expected to accumulate more debt during the pandemic, even higher than the share of Americans worried that their credit score will take a hit.

“It’s interesting that more people expect their debt to increase during the COVID-19 crisis than expect their credit score to decrease, which could indicate either that some people don’t know how debt affects credit scores or that people only need temporary financing they can pay off relatively quickly (once) things get back to normal,” said Gonzalez.

WalletHub recommends those with financial difficulties reach out to their utility providers, landlords and credit card companies, many of which are helping customers or residents affected by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.

It also advises paying the minimum balance required on a credit card bill by the due date in order to get credit for paying on time, signing up for free credit monitoring and thoroughly researching all federal, state and local government assistance.

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Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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