Canada’s big six banks have made the next major move in supporting Canadians amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit card interest rates are being temporarily cut by roughly half for tens of thousands of customers, banks have announced – in most cases, cardholders have to defer payments and demonstrate financial hardship to qualify.
Most of the banks’ credit cards charge interest between 19.99% and 20.99% on unpaid balances, and recent releases show rates dropping to around 10.99% (BMO, CIBC, Scotiabank, National Bank), or cut by 50 per cent exactly (TD Bank, Royal Bank).
The development follows a series of measures to help customers affected by the global pandemic, including mortgage and loan payment deferrals. The federal government had asked banks to reduce credit card interest rates according to reports from March 26.
The Bank of Canada recently issued a second emergency cut to its key rate, which fell to 0.25%. The most recent drop followed a reduction in mid-March, and affected floating mortgage rates, lines of credit and home equity lines of credit. The BoC prime rate cut did not impact credit card interest rates, however.
With the banks’ move, credit card payment deferrals and lower interest can help Canadians with short-term cash crunches – although a long-term picture remains unclear.
Adjustments to credit card interest rates – by bank
Note: Rate cuts won’t apply automatically and you must reach out to your bank to receive financial support.
In-depth: Credit card rate changes by bank
BMO announced in a release it will provide a temporary 10.99% interest rate on credit cards for personal and small business customers who are experiencing financial hardship and are receiving a credit card payment deferral.
For customers that applied for a credit card payment deferral prior to April 13, they automatically receive the new rate and do not need to contact the bank.
Additional measures from the bank include payment deferrals up to six months on mortgages and loans. Small businesses are also being supported through deferrals, as well as assistance with short-term capital and payroll.
More information can be found at bmo.com/covid19.
Scotiabank announced it was offering its temporary 10.99% rate to personal and small business credit card interest, effective April 1. The reduction is available to customers in financial distress who are receiving payment deferrals.
For those that have already received a deferral, contacting the bank again is not necessary – the lower rate will be applied to their account as a credit. Scotiabank is already offering the ability to transfer a credit card balance to an existing line of credit with a lower interest rate.
An online form will be made available on April 7. In the interim, updates can be found here.
TD Bank announced relief via its TD Helps program by reducing credit card interest rates by 50 per cent for customers facing financial hardship. The release and website do not mention payment deferrals as a necessity to qualify.
The bank reported almost 30,000 customers have reached out for advice and relief in recent weeks, including deferrals on payments of credit cards, loans and mortgages, and debt consolidation. The TD Helps program has been in place since the 2008 financial crisis.
The bank offers online self-serve applications for credit card payment deferrals (up to three months) at td.com/covid19. For the interest rate cut, customers are asked to call 1-888-720-0075 to determine if they qualify.
RBC is also reducing its credit card interest charges by 50 per cent for customers receiving payment deferrals, it announced in a release.
Clients need to complete a financial review with an RBC adviser to receive the relief credit. To speak with an adviser, customers can book an appointment online.
More information about the bank’s response to customers’ needs – including mortgages and loans – can be found at rbc.com/covid-19/index.html.
CIBC clients who request a personal credit card payment deferral and are experiencing financial hardship will receive a 10.99% rate, it said in a release.
The bank reports 80,000 Canadians have already received credit card relief, and the temporary lower rate will be retroactively applied to March 15. CIBC also announced credit card purchases more than $100 are eligible for instalment plans with lower rates via its Pace It program.
Customers can complete an online form for assistance, contact their CIBC adviser or call 1-877-454-9030 to discuss further options.
National Bank of Canada
National Bank is deploying a 10.9% reduced interest rate for credit card clients who defer their minimum payments and demonstrate financial need, it said in a release.
Payments can be deferred up to 90 days. Customers can also pay balances with reward points on several National Bank credit cards.
Clients are asked to call 1‑800‑361‑5205 to request a deferral, and further details can be found at nbc.ca/personal/covid-19/support-measures.html.
An example: What the rate cut means for your wallet
Let’s say you owe a $5,000 balance on a credit card with a typical annual interest rate of 19.99% and were approved for a three-month minimum payment deferral from your bank. You would owe roughly $250 in interest on your $5,000 balance by the end of the three-month deferral period, assuming you made no additional payments or charges during that time.
Under the new measures, you would now be subject to a 10.99% or 9.995% annual percentage rate (depending on your bank) and pay around $135 or $123 respectively in interest by the end of the three-month deferral period.
*This is a simplified example for illustrative purposes only.