For Bethany and Derick Hingle, every dollar counts now.

In just a matter of weeks, the New Orleans couple -- he’s a self-employed photographer, she works at a jewelry store -- watched most of their income evaporate as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses.

They began calling their banks, securing extensions for credit-card bills from Capital One Financial Corp. and a local credit union. They couldn’t catch a break on a $75 payment due on a Home Depot card issued by Citigroup Inc.

“Everything came to a screeching halt,” Bethany Hingle said. “We’re just trying to hold onto whatever dollars we can right now. We don’t know when the next paycheck is coming in.”

It’s a scenario reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, with the nation’s biggest credit-card lenders once again grappling with a surge in calls from waves of the suddenly unemployed pleading for relief. The banks, which are also adjusting to social distancing as most of their employees must work from home, warn customers that wait times will be longer than usual.

The jobless rate and Americans’ ability to pay off their cards are closely correlated. In 2009, when unemployment topped 10%, the nation’s card lenders were forced to write off a record $89 billion of soured debt. On Sunday, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard warned the pandemic could push the unemployment rate to 30% in the second quarter.

Congress is preparing a $2 trillion stimulus package, while regulators including the Fed are giving banks more leeway to ease consumers’ debt burdens, which should prompt lenders to work with borrowers more proactively, according to analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

“The agencies encourage financial institutions to work prudently with borrowers who are or may be unable to meet their contractual payment obligations because of the effects of Covid-19,” the regulators said in a statement, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Still, some executives worry that if customers take advantage of forbearance programs it could just delay an inevitable default. Alliance Data Systems Corp., which issues retail-brand credit cards, warned that if customers flock to a 6-month hardship program it would materially impact write-off rates.

“You end up having less severe charge-offs but for a longer period of time because of the hardship programs,” the company said Tuesday in a conference call with analysts.

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