In its first meeting for 2021, and its first one during the Biden administration, the Federal Reserveâs rate-setting body voted to hold its target interest rate steady in the 0% to 0.25% range.
This means there is not likely to be much upward movement in variable credit card interest rates, which are typically tied to the Fedâs target interest rate, or the fed funds rate.
The Fed will also continue with its purchases of at least $80 billion in Treasury securities and $40 billion in agency mortgage-backed securities every month to further support the economy.
See related: What to expect from Biden, Harris on financial policy
In a media release, the Federal Open Market Committee said, âThe pace of the recovery in economic activity and employment has moderated in recent months, with weakness concentrated in the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic. Weaker demand and earlier declines in oil prices have been holding down consumer price inflation. Overall financial conditions remain accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.â
The course of economic growth will depend on how effectively the pandemic is reined in, including with the use of vaccinations. Meanwhile, the Fed will aim to maintain its almost 0% target rate until it deems the economy to have attained âmaximum employmentâ and inflation outpaces its 2% target for a while.
The Fedâs aim is for inflation to overshoot its 2% target for a while so that average inflation remains around 2%, considering that inflation has been running below target for several years now.
In a related press conference, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell noted that there are positive signs for the economy going forward, and a number of forecasts call for a stronger economy in the second half of the year because of vaccine rollouts and fiscal stimulus. He expects that âwidespread vaccinations would enable us to putÂ the pandemic behind us.â
Powell added that thereâs ânothing more important to the economy right now than people getting vaccinatedâ since that will enable everyone to get back to work. He himself has had his first vaccination shot and expects to be getting a second one soon, he mentioned.
However, he sees the pandemic as still presenting âconsiderable downside riskâÂ to the economy considering that no one knows how the vaccination rollout will go. Given this, the Fed has set its policy to be accommodative until it actually sees economic improvement.
See related: Millennials defer debt payoff, tap savings in pandemic
Full employment recovery a long way off
Considering that the shock from the pandemic âwas unprecedented both in terms of its nature and its size,â in modern history, the economy is still at least nine million jobs short of maximum employment, according to Powell. He also noted that the real unemployment rate is at least 10% taking into account people who have dropped out of the labor force.
He is concerned about any potential long-term damage from unemployment to people, which will ultimately prevent the U.S. economy from achieving its full productive potential.
Powell also pointed to racial disparities in terms of employment gaps, wealth gaps and home-ownership gaps that âeven controlling for many other factors, theyâre persistent and difficult to explain.â Broader prosperity for everyone is important since the Fed wants the âpotential output of the economy to be as high asÂ possible.â
See related: Pandemic pins parents under financial strain: Survey
Fed doesnât see transient inflation rise as a threat
Although there could be a rise in inflation as the economyÂ reopens, Powell expects this to be transient and not âtroubling inflation.â The world has been facing âdisinflationary pressuresâ for a while now, and Powell is more concerned about any damage to people and the economy from tightening its monetary policy too soon than about fighting off the possibility for higher inflation.
He also doesnât see risks to financial stability as high, based on asset prices and the use of debt by the banking system, businesses and households. News about vaccines and fiscal policy is what is driving asset prices, as he sees it.
Itâs premature for the Fed to think about rolling back its securities purchases and start being less accommodative, according to Powell. The Fed has learned a lot from its experience after the global financial crisis and the âtaper tantrumâ that ensued after it decided to start tightening its monetary policy during that recovery.
Accordingly, it will communicate its policy stances well in advance and be transparent this time around. âItâs too soon to be worried. When it comes (time) to exit, we know how to do that,â Powell said.
Many rewards credit cardsÂ offer the opportunity to earn a sign-up bonus. Even some no-annual-fee credit cards offer them, allowing consumers to maximize cash back or points without paying every year for simply having the card.
The Apple Card only started offering a sign-up bonus in June, when Apple cardholders could earn $50 in Daily Cash after spending $50 at Walgreens. This was followed by offers in September, October and November, most recently including aÂ $75 sign-up bonus after spending $75 at Nike in-store and online via Apple Pay.
And now through Jan. 31, new Apple Card holders can score a slightly lower sign-up bonus. You’ll get $50 in Daily Cash after you spend $50 or more on purchases with Exxon or Mobil.
See related: Apple Card: One year later
How to get the Apple Card sign-up bonus
New Apple Card holders who open an account between Jan. 8 and Jan. 31, 2021 can earn $50 in Appleâs Daily Cash when they spend $50 using Apple Card with Apple Pay (where available) at Exxon and Mobil stations at the pump or at attached convenience stores in the U.S., within 30 days of the account opening. To pay at the pump with Apple Pay, you can use either the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ mobile app or contactless payment.
This month’s sign-up bonus from Apple is lower than its previous offer from Nike, but on par with the older offers from Walgreens and Panera Bread, both of which got you just $50 in Daily Cash back after a matching spend.
You can apply for the Apple Card from the Wallet app on your iPhone.
Should you apply for the Apple Card now?
If you have been considering applying for the Apple Card, it might be a good idea to do so this month, especially if you commute or drive often enough to spend $50 at gas stations in a month. While the card doesnât always come with a sign-up bonus, new cardholders currently have a great chance to earn one.
Besides that, the Apple Card offers 3% cash back on Apple purchases, as well as 3% cash back when you use Apple Pay for Walgreens, Nike and Uber and Uber Eats purchases and at T-Mobile stores. Other Apple Pay purchases will earn you 2% in cash back. When you use the physical card, the cash back rate goes down to 1%.
However, the Apple Card might not make sense for everyone. The earning rate is good on Apple purchases, but if youâre looking for a primary cash back card to add to your wallet, there might be better options.
For example, with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express you can earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%) and 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. All other purchases will get you 1% in cash back.
Another alternative is the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which earns you unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase and doesnât have an annual fee. Plus, you only need to spend $500 in the first three months with the card to earn its $200 sign-up bonus.
There are quite a few other cards to look into. Shop around before you decide to take advantage of Appleâs offer. The sign-up bonus alone shouldnât tempt you into signing up for a card that doesnât align with your spending.
See related:Â Apple card credit score requirements and reasons for denial
If youâre an Apple enthusiast and have been looking into the Apple Card for some time, now might be a good time to apply. The new limited-time sign-up offer gives you an opportunity to earn an easy sign-up bonus â something the card doesnât normally have.
On Jan. 20, 2021, Chase announced a new card art option for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card featuring Whole Foods Market and added a limited-time sign-up bonus offer for those who prefer to shop at Whole Foods in-store.
Amazon has become a leader in grocery shopping during the pandemic, with consumers avoiding grocery stores due to health safety concerns â not to mention the convenience of shopping from a web browser. Amazon Prime members can enjoy speedy free delivery, as well as get access to online shopping at Whole Foods Market and special member deals when shopping in-store.
They can also count on extra savings if they carry the Amazon Prime Rewards card from Chase â or if theyâre looking to apply in the next few weeks.
Hereâs what you need to know.
Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card
Our rating: 3.8Â out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Cash back
Spending categories: Amazon, Whole Foods, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores
- 5% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases
- 2% back on restaurant, gas station and drug store purchases
- 1% back on other purchases
- $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval or $100 statement credit after spending $100 at Whole Foods in first 2 months
- No annual fee
Our take: While the Amazon Prime Rewards card offers excellent cash back on Amazon and Whole Food purchases, it might not be the best choice for customers who don’t currently have a Prime membership and aren’t looking to subscribe.
A new Whole Foods card design and limited-time offer
Chase introduced a new card design option for new Amazon Prime Rewards cardholders, featuring Whole Foods Market art. New cardmembers with an eligible Prime membership can choose the new design when they apply for the card. If youâre an existing cardholder and would like to switch to the new design option, you can call in to request a new card after Jan. 22, 2021.
If you frequently shop at Whole Foods in-store, the new limited-time introductory offer can also be exciting news for you. Through March 3, 2021, new Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 in Whole Foods Market stores in the first two months from account opening. Alternatively, they can still choose the standard $70 Amazon gift card offer as a sign-up bonus.
Considering the standard bonus is lower, the new temporary offer might be a better deal. On the other hand, if you avoid shopping in-store or normally use Amazon Fresh for buying groceries, the gift card might make more sense for you.
Should I start shopping at Whole Foods if I have an Amazon credit card?
If you already shop at Whole Foods, the 5% back with the Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa and 10% off specially marked items is a good deal. The discounts, though, donât make Whole Foods cheaper than other grocery stores.
In fact, according to a study from 2019, Whole Foods remains the most expensive grocery store with its prices at 34% above Walmart, which was reported to have the lowest prices overall. If your goal is to save on groceries, Whole Foods is evidently not the best option â even if you carry the Amazon Prime card.
Other cards to consider
The Amazon Prime Card isnât the only option you should consider if you often shop on Amazon or at Whole Foods.
See related: Which is the best card to use on Amazon.com purchases?
For instance, with the Chase Amazon.com Rewards Visa card, you can get a $50 Amazon gift card upon approval and earn 3% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% percent at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else. If you donât have a Prime membership and arenât looking to subscribe, this is a good option, since the card doesnât require for a cardholder to be a member.
If you do have a membership and shop on Amazon a lot, the Amazon Prime card is a better deal. With 5% for purchases made at Whole Foods and on Amazon, 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else, this card is hard to beat for Amazon and Whole Foods lovers.
If youâre looking for a card to buy groceries, consider the Blue Cash PreferredÂ® Card from American Express that could save you more than with the Amazon Prime Visa at Whole Foods. Why? Blue Cash Preferred cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%).
See related: Best credit cards for grocery shopping
Now you can stack your rewards at Whole Foods, earning cash back and the limited-time bonus with the Amazon Prime Card, and you can get extra savings from the loyalty program. Whether it makes sense to shop at Whole Foods, even with rewards cards and the loyalty program, is up to you.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, major credit card issuers are offering relief to their customers.
Even though many places around the country are open, the pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy. Workers are still at risk of being laid off or facing reduced hours or pay.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we want our customers to know we are here to provide assistance should they need it,â Anand Selva, chief executive officer of Citiâs consumer bank, said in a statement in Spring 2020.
At the same time, scammers are now trying to take advantage of coronavirus concerns by sending out fake emails about the virus that are designed to steal consumersâ personal and financial information or to infect their computers with malware.
Financial strategies if you’re self-employed
How to manage your credit cards during the coronavirus outbreak
Coronavirus: What to do if youâre unemployed and have credit card debt
What to do if youâre struggling to pay your credit card bills
Many credit card issuers are allowing customers to opt into financial relief programs online. These programs are a convenient way to access short-term relief. But it could come with a long-term cost as many cardholders will continue to see interest accrue. With the average credit card interest rate sitting at 16.05%, cardholders might find more cost-effective relief through other options.
Here’s what issuers are currently offering:
Cardholders who are having difficulties can get assistance through American Express’s financial hardship program. Eligible cardholders have the option to enroll in a short-term payment plan, which provides relief for 12 months, or a long-term plan, which can provide relief for either 36 or 60 months.
Under both options, you will receive lower interest rates, plus waived late payment fees and annual fees. But you might not have access to certain card benefits and features.
If you enroll in the short-term plan, you might be able to continue putting new purchases on the card but with a reduced spending limit. If you are participating in the long-term plan, you will not be able to use the card.
Amex will report participating cardholders to the credit bureaus as current, assuming they comply with the program’s rules. But the program’s terms do offer some important caveats: Amex will inform the credit bureaus that you are enrolled in a payment assistance program (if you’re in the long-term plan). And under both plans, Amex will report that you have a lower credit limit.
While these factors do not have as much of an impact on your credit score as a delinquent account does, it could still signal to other lenders that you might be having some financial hardship.
Bank of America
Bank of America cardholders who have trouble paying credit card bills can request a credit card payment deferral by calling the number on the back of their card.
To qualify for payment assistance, cardholders must be carrying a balance, according to the website.
Bank of America sent an email to Preferred Rewards members in May 2020 stating that the company had temporarily suspended the annual program review process. Members whose assets dropped below the regular threshold to keep their status would continue to qualify for program benefits. It is unclear if Bank of America is still suspending this program.
Barclays urges credit card account holders to request payment relief online. As of May 4, 2020, the bank is granting payment relief for two statements, but interest will continue to accrue.
âWe understand that this is a time of uncertainty for many people, and we know that there may be instances where customers find themselves facing financial difficulties. Capital One is here to help and we encourage customers who may be impacted to reach out to discuss how we might be of assistance,â the bank said in a statement.
In a March 26, 2020 update, Chairman and CEO Rich Fairbank confirmed that they are offering waived fees and deferred payments on credit cards for some cardholders.
Because each customerâs situation is different, the bank encourages customers to contact it directly. To contact Capital One customer service about an existing account, call (800) 227-4825.
See related: How to clean your credit card
Previously, Chase Bank stated that customers will be able to “delay up to three payments on your personal or business credit card” if needed, with interest continuing to accrue. The website currently does not specify how many payments cardholders can defer.
It also stated that active duty military members who are responding to a disaster might have access to additional benefits. Servicemembers can call the bank for more information.
In a letter to shareholders, the company’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, also promised to not report late payments to the credit bureaus for “up-to-date clients.”
See related: Chase offering limited-time bonus on food delivery for some cardholders
Citi customers who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic might be eligible for assistance. Previously, the bank was waiving payments and late fees for two consecutive billing cycles. However, Citi has ended its pandemic assistance program.
“Due to a significant and steady decline in enrollments, our formal COVID-19 assistance program has concluded and we will focus on providing assistance options to those customers financially affected by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis. We continue to closely monitor the situation and will evaluate additional actions to support our customers and communities as needs arise,” a spokesperson for Citi said in an email.
During the bank’s pandemic assistance program, interest continued to accrue, but accounts that were current at the time of enrollment were not be reported as delinquent.
Discover will be extending relief to qualified customers who are experiencing financial difficulty caused by the spread of COVID-19.
“We encourage them to contact us by calling and are directing them to www.discover.com/coronavirus for phone numbers for each product line and other FAQs,” Discover said in a statement earlier this year. “We also can provide relief through our mobile text app, which connects a customer directly with an agent.”
Discover it Miles cardmembers can also put their miles towards their bill â including their minimum payment.
See related: What to do if you can’t pay your business credit card bill
Apple Card customers can enroll in an assistance program. Previously, cardholders could waive payments without accruing any interest. The website currently doesn’t specify if this is still the case.
Cardholders can defer payments for three billing cycles. Though interest will continue to accrue, enrolled cardholders will not receive late fees, and their accounts will be reported as current, as long as accounts were not delinquent at the time of enrollment.
Synchrony is extending relief to customers experiencing financial hardship. The company’s website previously stated that this could include payment relief for up to three statement cycles, while interest would continue to accrue. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Truist (formerly SunTrust and BB&T)
Previously, Truist offered payment relief assistance to customers with personal and business credit cards, among other products. As of April 14, it was willing to delay payments for up to 90 days. The website currently offers no specifics about what the issuer is prepared to offer.
Previously, impacted cardholders could defer monthly payments for two consecutive billing cycles. The company’s website currently does not specify what assistance cardholders can expect to receive.
See related: Coronavirus stimulus legislation doesnât suspend negative credit reporting
ultimate guide to coronavirus limited-time promotions for more offers designed to help cardholders maximize rewards amid the coronavirus pandemic.