Credit Card Expert Roundup #56 - Coronavirus
With school closings, travel restrictions, social distancing, and all of the other drastic changes we have been forced to make all at once due to the current health environment, we are in very uncertain times on many levels. Because we don't know how long all of this will last, it's vital to prepare as much as we can. Money management is going to be challenging the longer this crisis lasts.
Jason Steele asks a panel of experts the following question for this edition of the roundup:
As it pertains to credit cards, what do you see as the implications (both positive and negative) of the Coronavirus crisis including travel restrictions, event cancellations and a possible economic downturn?
Russ Nauta - Credit Card Expert
I was going to address this and I'm glad that Jason chose this topic for a roundup. As someone who has been in this industry for over 15 years, here is my take on where we are right now:
1) If you have good credit, get a straight cash back 0% APR card right now (my pick is Capital One Quicksilver) - Travel rewards cards and rotating category/tiered cash back cards are less valuable now than they were a week and a half ago. There is little reason at the moment to get a travel rewards card because we don't know when we will be able to travel and cash back cards that reward more with entertainment spend are of little use as opportunities for these types of purchases will continue to dwindle. In my opinion, getting a travel rewards card over a cash back card until we know more about what's in store for us makes zero sense unless you are sitting on tons of cash reserves AND a bank totally sweetens the deal with a massive sign-up bonus.
Additionally, even if you have the resources to support yourself for 3+ months, getting a 0% credit card offer and using that first is a very good idea because we do not know how long this situation will last. The cushion of 15 months with no interest while there is a level of uncertainty is a wise move -- and doing so with a no annual fee card makes more sense.
2) Revolvers, get a no fee 0% balance transfer offer now (my pick is Chase Slate) - It is entirely possible that your credit line could get slashed if the situation does not improve sooner rather than later, even if you have very good credit. This was not an uncommon practice with many banks back during the financial crisis. If you're carrying a balance and don't pay it off every month, transfer that balance now to a 0% no fee transfer offer. If banks start tightening lending, it's entirely possible that 0% no fee transfers may disappear entirely and/or credit lines may not be awarded to cover the whole amount of debt needed to be transferred.
John Ganotis - Credit Card Expert
I'd expect there to be a lot less interest in cards that earn travel rewards, especially hotel and airline credit cards. A big signup bonus for extra airline miles is probably less appealing to most people when they can't use it right away. With less travel going on, co-branded airline and hotel cards with annual fees may struggle as people may not be able to justify paying an annual fee when they're not using the cards or earning rewards with them.
With people staying home more, I think we might see more people using cards that earn rewards on food delivery services. For example, the Uber Credit Card gets 5% back on Uber Eats, so that could be a strong card for people who are staying home more and ordering food with delivery services. Alternatively, cards that earn high rewards on groceries, like the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express, may see lots of use as people stock up at supermarkets.
Even with lower APRs due to the lower Prime Rate, it's not smart to carry a balance on credit cards with a non-0% APR. Credit card interest usually compounds daily, and rates tend to be high, so finance charges can add up quickly. Even with an APR that's half a percent to 1% lower, it makes sense to pay your credit card's statement balance in full to avoid interest completely.
Andrew Schrage - Credit Card Expert
The COVID-19 pandemic has already been devastating for the travel industry. While we shouldn’t forget that millions of livelihoods hang in the balance, we also can’t ignore the upside for frequent travelers.
As airlines and hotels slash prices to match cratering demand, the cost of award travel falls as well. The first half of 2020 may turn out to be the best time in many years to cash in points or miles earned on travel rewards credit cards. Holders of co-branded credit cards, like Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card and Amex’s Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card, could fare particularly well as low-demand dates — when fewer points or miles are needed to book award travel — fill the calendar.
Due to widespread event cancellations and growing restrictions on movement in many places, the average cardholder — frequent traveler or not — is likely to make more online purchases in the coming months. Now is the time to apply for credit cards that offer generous rewards on mobile wallet or payment app purchases. For instance, Apple Card pays 2% to 3% cash back on purchases made with Apple Pay, depending on the merchant.
Keep an eye on credit card issuers’ sign-up bonus offers as well. A prolonged slump in travel could spur a wave of unusually generous offers for new cardholders. Even if you don’t plan to travel in the coming months, you’ll appreciate those extra bonus points when you’re finally ready to book.
Eric Rosenberg - Personal finance, travel, and technology writer
We’ve been in a golden age of credit card rewards for a while now, and coronavirus puts the entire system at risk to some extent, particularly when it comes to travel rewards. While we can all still count on the ability to earn cash back and travel rewards for years to come, it’s very likely that both banks and travel companies will do some belt-tightening. Credit card rewards could fall victim.
The economic impact of coronavirus is already being seen in the stock market, but we won’t know the full effect for some time. What’s certain is a decline in travel will hurt airlines and hotels. A decline in shopping and other economic activity will hurt credit card issuers’ transaction volumes. These are businesses with a goal of making money, so lost revenue will undoubtedly have some effect.
In the short-term, miles and points enthusiasts will likely see their balances grow as they keep using cards without redeeming rewards for travel. But this virus will eventually come to pass. While the industry may experience short-term pain, the long-term outlook is still very good.
Greg Johnson - Credit Card & Travel Expert
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has obviously had a major impact on both the travel industry and the financial sector. As a travel rewards card enthusiast, I’m very interested to see how this plays out regarding credit cards.
Of course, the Fed’s emergency rate cut is already driving down the interest rate on most credit cards. I’m certainly not a Fed expert, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another rate cut as the financial impact of the virus continues to spread into late spring and summer.
On the positive side, since you’ll likely have some time before you decide to travel again, this is a great time to start earning rewards for your next vacation. By the time this all passes, and it will eventually pass, we’re all going to be ready to travel. I can’t think of a better way to cure a case of cabin fever than to use a boatload of points on a fantastic trip.
Additionally, since it may take some time for people to feel comfortable jumping back in an airplane, there is bound to be a ton of reward flights available. Hotels are also reeling, so you’ll probably have your pick of when to use your points there too. To persuade people to start traveling again, my hunch is that there are going to be a ton of massive sales to be had. For rewards programs that are still tied to the actual price of your stay or ticket, this means your points will go even further than they do today.
Personally, I think cards offering flexible travel credits are a great idea right now. Earning points and miles with cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Card will help you to take advantage of these huge sales once you’re ready to resume your travels. With flexible rewards credits, you can use your points with any airline or hotel brand at any time!
Of course, with travel providers bound to lose millions, a devaluation of points is also possible. With that said, I think the need to get people through the doors and being loyal to their customers will likely outweigh the temptation to devalue their points.
Ben Luthi - Credit Card Expert & Finance Writer
There's a lot of uncertainty right now with the coronavirus, and I think there are both positive and negative impacts to credit card users from that. The Federal Reserve has already cut the federal funds rate by half a percent, and there are expectations that it will cut the rate to zero in the next week. That's going to result in lower interest rates across the board for most credit card users.
That said, the stock market has taken a beating so far, and it's hard to tell how much more it will drop. So while interest rates may be lower, I expect consumers to spend less money, which will impact the revenue card issuers can bring in and use for rewards and other card features. From a rewards standpoint, the travel industry is struggling, so if you do plan to use points and miles to travel, you can expect cheaper flights and accommodations, as well as more award availability.