Credit cards that can get you through the crisis

Put credit card interest on hold and focus on the essentials.

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As the coronavirus spreads throughout the Canada and businesses temporarily shutter, it can be very difficult to keep up with finances. If you’re among those facing mild to severe financial difficulties, know that you are not alone and that you have options. Here are some ways you can keep your finances stable with credit cards during these uncertain times.

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Riding out a lack of income

Service industries have been hit particularly hard during this outbreak, with several provinces temporarily closing bars, restaurants and similar businesses. If you’re a service worker affected by these closings, you’ll need to float your finances for at least a few weeks until you can return to your job. There are a few helpful tools to consider: 0% intro APR credit cards for purchases, instant approval cards and cards for fair credit.

Note: It’s not ideal to use a credit card to fill financial gaps. You should only use credit cards this way during emergencies when you have limited financial options.

Intro purchase APR credit cards

A credit card with an intro period on purchases can let you use your card on spending without needing to pay interest for a set period of time. Since we’re unsure how long these business closures will last, you’ll want a card with as long an intro period as possible.

On average, these cards will stave off interest for 6-9 months, though some can go even longer.

Instant approval credit cards

You might find that you need a credit card faster than the 7 to 10 business days it typically takes to receive one upon approval. If so, there are a few banks that will give you your card’s account information upon approval.

Once approved, you can copy your card information and use it to make digital and online purchases right away.

Easy-to-obtain credit cards for fair credit

Not everyone will have equal access to the full range of credit cards out there. If you don’t have a credit score or have a history of poor to fair credit, consider a credit card designed for that credit range.

Compared to high-end cards, it’s relatively easy to obtain cards for fair credit. While you won’t necessarily get the best rates or rewards with these cards, they’re still a step above credit cards designed for poor credit.

Keep in mind that credit cards for poor and fair credit will have lower credit limits than cards for good and excellent credit. In some cases, it might not be worth applying for these cards if your spending is going to far outstrip your given credit limit.

Are secured credit cards helpful during an emergency?

No. Secured cards won’t keep you afloat financially since they require a security deposit which acts as the card’s credit limit.

I can pay for the essentials, but can’t cover my credit card bills

If making rent and grocery payments isn’t a problem, but you don’t think you can make your outstanding credit card payments, a credit card can help here too. Specifically, you’ll want to look at available balance transfer cards.

Intro balance transfer APR credit cards

With a balance transfer card, you can move your existing card debt over to a card that doesn’t charge interest for a set period of time. This means you can move your existing card payments off the table while you focus on taking care of yourself.

Intro periods on balance transfer cards average around 6-9 months, but some can go even longer.

Mind your intro period

For balance transfer and purchase intro APRs, do your best to pay off your entire balance before that promotional period ends. Otherwise, you’ll be hit with retroactive interest on your balance which could put you in bad financial shape down the road.

To avoid overspending and not being able to pay off your balance, use your card only for absolute essentials.

How do I choose a card?

Given the uncertain nature of the coronavirus response, we recommend erring on the side of caution and prioritizing a card with the longest intro APR period on purchases or balance transfers.

If your primary concern is stabilizing your finances now, factors such as card rewards and perks may not weigh into your decision as heavily. Also note that you aren’t obligated to use the card after your intro period ends, so it might be helpful to choose a card without an annual fee to avoid increasing your financial burden.

Compare credit cards with introductory APRs

Name Product Purchase Interest Rate Cash Advance Rate Annual Fee Minimum Income Benefits with this card Description
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard
12.99%
12.99%
$20
$15,000
Take advantage of an introductory balance transfer offer, annual fee waiver in the first year, and low purchase and cash advance interest rates.
Get a rate of 3.99% on balance transfers for 9 months with a 1% transfer fee. Plus, get the $20 annual fee waived in the first year.
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
1.95% intro APR for the first , 19.95% thereafter
19.95%
$0
$12,000
Earn 2% cash back in two categories of your choice (or three categories if you open a Tangerine Savings Account and directly deposit your cash back into the account), and 0.5% cash back on everything else.
Get a 1.95% interest rate on balance transfers for the first six months (valid within the first 30 days of account opening).
No-Fee Scotiabank Value Visa Card
16.99%
16.99%
$0
$12,000
Save with a low interest rate, no annual fee and a balance transfer offer.
Get a 3.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers with a 0% balance transfer fee for the first 6 months. Apply by February 28, 2021.
BMO Rewards Mastercard
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
Get 1 BMO Reward point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases, and get 2 BMO Rewards points for every $1 spent at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car locations.
Get a bonus of 15,000 BMO Rewards points. Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
Get 3x the AIR MILES for every $25 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and get 1 AIR MILE for every $25 spent elsewhere.
Get 950 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $100 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash). Plus, get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020. Get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to transferred balances.
BMO CashBack Mastercard
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
Earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases.
Get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership (up to a maximum spend of $2,000, and earn 3% cash back on groceries, 1% on recurring bill payments and 0.5% on all other eligible purchases thereafter). Plus, get a rate of 1.99% on balance transfers with a 1% balance transfer fee for nine months.
BMO AIR MILES Mastercard For Students
19.99%
22.99%
$0
$15,000
Get 3x the AIR MILES for every $25 spent at eligible AIR MILES partners, and get 1 AIR MILE for every $25 spent elsewhere.
Get 950 AIR MILES Bonus Miles (enough for $100 towards purchases with AIR MILES Cash). Plus, get 5x the Miles at Shell until December 31, 2020. Get a 1.99% introductory interest rate on balance transfers for 9 months. A 1% fee applies to balance amounts transferred.
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Bottom line

The right credit card can serve as a useful crutch as you deal with the short term effects of coronavirus on our economy. Using a credit card this way isn’t sustainable over the long term however, and you’ll eventually need to pay down your balance. Take care to use your emergency credit card wisely and don’t fall behind on payments.

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