5 Ways to Protect Your Business and Personal Credit Scores During a Crisis Missed payments mean your credit scores could take a hit. Here's how to avoid that.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Between uncertain cash flow and concern over how to meet financial obligations such as payroll and bills, it's a stressful time to be a small-business owner. Many entrepreneurs are experiencing the same anxieties over unemployment, debt and financial sustainability. Your personal and business credit scores could take a hit if you have to miss payments due to a cash shortfall.
Related: The Zero-Sum Mindset: How to Avoid Toxic Thinking in Moments of Crisis
Implement these strategies to help protect your credit score while we wait for the pandemic to pass:
1. Regularly review bank accounts for any suspicious activity.
Unfortunately, crises and the financial relief that often follows seem to bring out fraudsters and criminals. That's certainly true in the current crisis with the CARES Act, which has already prompted its share of scams targeting your business.
For example, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) reports that recent scams include emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites crafted to trick recipients into revealing personal data. Sometimes these scams use the pretext of fraudulent charities or financial aid sites. Beware of any emails, text messages, phone calls or social media posts with attachments or links.
Related: Why Millions of Americans Are Struggling to File for Unemployment Benefits, When They've Never Been More Generous
One way to spot and avoid scams is to go directly to government sites to get accurate information about available small-business loans. Do the same with any charities you might want to help. You can also go directly to your financial institution or creditor's website for information about assistance instead of clicking on links contained in email messages.
2. Assess what you can and cannot pay.
Rather than simply ignoring your bills, create a plan for paying as many bills as possible. Take a hard look at your budget to see if you can reduce or eliminate any specific costs. Then reallocate that money toward your essential expenses, like leases, mortgage or rent, vehicle loans, credit card payments and utilities.
To aid this process, consider digitizing your budget with an app like Mint from Intuit, the company behind TurboTax and Quickbooks. Mint is packed with features to track your money, including integrations with numerous banks, credit card companies, lenders and more.
The service also includes ways to organize all your transactions from linked credit cards and debit cards so you can account for all expenditures. These categories can help you spot the areas where costs can be trimmed. Also, you can quickly update payments such as gas and entertainment that decreased due to shelter-in-place orders.
3. Use a credit monitoring and identity protection service.
An alert service that keeps an eye on your credit and identity gives you a better chance of stopping or avoiding fraudulent activity that can damage your credit score. This is a way to win back control over your data and protect your identity in the digital age.
Through its partnership with TransUnion, Bloom packs free credit monitoring, data breach monitoring and smart identity features together into a single app. The smart identity features can stop predatory third parties from accessing your data, thus significantly reducing the risk of identity theft.
Related: 3 Tips for Keeping Confidential Information Just That -- Confidential
The app also lets you file data breach settlement claims, apply for credit and log into apps and websites without using a password. Additionally, Bloom delivers educational content and tools to help you protect your data and confidential information.
4. Be proactive about contacting creditors.
Let your creditors know that you are struggling to pay your bills. Procrastinating on this task will not improve the situation.
By reaching out and letting them know your current financial situation, you may be able to salvage your credit score. Everyone's finances are taking a hit thanks to a loss in clients, reduction in hours or brick-and-mortar location closure. Creditors might be more willing to work with you now than they normally would.
Take advantage of available deferment-payment plans. However, make sure you understand all the terms before doing so. You need to know exactly what you are agreeing to, including whether the deferment involves a balloon payment in six months or whether the lender will move those payments to the end of your loan's life.
5. Limit your purchases as much as possible to conserve cash flow.
Despite the extra time to browse the web, this is not the time to be buying anything that isn't strictly necessary, even if you do eventually get a relief check. Now is the time to reduce expenses and purchases in order to ensure you can meet your obligations and maintain an excellent credit score.
To help track expenditures and minimize these purchase urges, try PocketGuard. It's a budgeting app that can link to all of your financial accounts so it can see what you are depositing, earning and paying (both for recurring bills and day-to-day expenses). It can also provide suggestions for cutting your spending across all categories to discourage discretionary purchases.
Related: 7 Free Budget Apps to Help You Save Smarter
PocketGuard is an intuitive app that will look at each bill and decide if you are paying too much. It can often find ways to save you more money on common expenses such as your phone, TV and internet services by searching for better deals.