Charged Off as Bad Debt: An Explainer

July 21, 2020 &• 5 min read by Lacey Langford Comments 73 Comments

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Making payments late or missing payments completely spells bad news for your credit rating. When you miss too many payments, your creditor may charge off the debt. When your debt is charged off as a bad debt, don’t fool yourself into thinking it goes away.

A charged off debt can lead to harassing phone calls, garnished wages, and a major drop in your credit score. According to the Federal Reserve, consumer loans had a charge-off rate of around 2.3% in the final quarter of 2019. Credit card debt was more likely to be charged off than other forms of debt. But what is a charge-off, and how much does it impact your credit if your balance is charged off as bad debt? Find out more below, including what you can do about charge-offs on your credit report.

What Is a Charge-Off?

A charge-off occurs when you don’t pay the full minimum payment on a debt for several months and your creditor writes it off as a bad debt. Basically, it means the company has given up hope that you’ll pay back the money you borrowed and considers the debt a loss on their profit-and-loss statement. The creditor closes your account, which could be a personal loan, credit card, revolving charge account or another debt you’ve failed to pay as promised, and it’s charged off as a bad debt.

If you make payments that are less than the monthly minimum amount due, your account can still be charged off as bad debt. You must bring your account current to avoid it being charged off. Once your debt is charged off, your creditor will send a negative report to one or more of the credit reporting agencies. It may also attempt to collect on the debt through its own collection department, by sending your account to a third-party debt collector, or by selling the debt to a debt buyer.

When Will a Charge-Off Happen?

Charge-offs typically don’t happen until your payments are severely late. When you start missing payments, creditors will first send letters reminding you of your past-due bill. If that fails, they move on to the collections process. The standard time for creditors to perform a charge-off is after 120 to 180 days of nonpayment.

Does Charged Off Mean Your Debt Is Paid Off?

Charged off doesn’t mean your debt is forgiven. Don’t be misled into believing that because the creditor wrote off your balance that you no longer need to pay the debt.

Even when a company writes off your debt as a loss for its own accounting purposes, it still has the right to pursue collection. This could include suing you in court for what you owe and requesting a garnishment of your wages. Unless you settle or file for certain types of bankruptcy—or the statute of limitations in your state has been reached—you’re still responsible for paying back the debt.

How Does Charged Off Debt Affect Your Credit Score

Charge-offs affect your credit report because they’re caused by missed payments. FICO research indicates that a single late payment negatively impacts your credit score. Missing a payment by 90 days can drop your score over 100 points—but missing it by just 30 days can also have a significant negative affect on your score.

Because a charge-off results from missing payments, you have both the late payments and a charge-off listed on your credit report. Even with good credit, a single charge-off lowers your credit score substantially. Late and delinquent payments have the largest impact on your credit score because up to 35% of your score is determined by your payment history. A lower credit score can cause higher insurance rates, larger housing and utility deposits, increased interest rates and denials for new loans and credit cards.

How Long Does Charged-Off Debt Stay on Your Credit Report?

Just like late payments, a charged-off debt stays on your credit report for seven years. The seven-year clock starts on the date of the last scheduled payment you didn’t make and doesn’t restart if the debt is sold to a collection agency or debt buyer. Paying the charged-off amount won’t remove it from your credit report. The account’s status is simply changed to “charged-off paid” or “charged-off settled,” which remains on your credit report until the end of the seven-year period, when it automatically falls off your report.

How to Remove a Legitimate Charge-Off from Your Credit Report

The only way to have a legitimate charge-off removed from your credit report before the seven-year period expires is to convince the original reporting entity to do so. That’s typically the creditor that wrote the debt off.

While this tactic is hit or miss, success can mean a major positive for your credit report. And even if you’re not successful, you can still get a bit of a bump in your credit history by paying off charged-off debt. Here’s how it works.

  • You need to have enough money to negotiate with. Before you start negotiating, determine how much you can realistically pay and how soon you can pay it. If you can pay in full right away, you have more leverage to have the charge-off removed you’re your credit report, but you can also ask if they’re willing to make payment arrangements Consider saving up money or taking out a debt consolidation loan.
  • Once you have enough money to negotiate, contact the original creditor. Make sure you’re speaking to someone who has the authority to negotiate with you and make agreements about actions on your credit report.
  • Let the creditor know how much you can pay and that you’re able to make the payment today in exchange for calling the debt paid off and removing the charge-off from your credit report.
  • Get any agreement in writing from the creditor before you make a payment.

If the creditor won’t delete the charge-off from your credit report but does agree to settle your debt for less than you owe, consider the offer. Make sure they agree to mark the charge-off as paid-in-full on your credit report. That shows future creditors that you did make an effort to pay your debts and can be a critical requirement if you ever apply for a mortgage.

How to Dispute a Charge-Off on Your Credit Report

Sometimes, the charge-off on your credit report isn’t accurate. Perhaps you never owed the debt to begin with or you did pay it, and the profit-and-loss write off is a clerical error. You can work to get such items removed from your credit report by disputing them and asking the creditor to verify what they reported. Write a dispute letter yourself or work with a credit repair company to help clear up your report.

When you sign up for ExtraCredit, you get exclusive discounts to reputable credit repair services—plus access to 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit reports and additional features.

How to Avoid Balances Being Charged Off as Bad Debt

Even better than working to settle a debt and potentially get a charge-off removed is avoiding the issue in the first place. The ideal time to act is as soon as you see you’re struggling to make regular payments. Waiting until items are charged off as bad debt means your credit score will take numerous hits as you miss payments.

But if you can’t pay your debts, what choice do you have? Turns out you have many options, including some of the ones summarized below.

  • Consolidate your debt. Apply for a debt consolidation loan that lets you bring several debt items under a single account. You may be able to qualify for more favorable terms that reduce the amount you pay each month to make it easier to manage your debt. But this is more likely before your credit score drops due to missed payments and charge-offs.
  • Get a balance transfer card. If the debt you’re struggling with is credit card related, apply for a balance transfer card. If you can get approved for a card with a 0% APR offer, you may reduce how much you have to pay each month and make it easier to pay down your debts.

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  • Reach out to the creditor for help. Most creditors have programs designed to help account holders who are experiencing emergency financial situations. As soon as you know you can’t pay your bills, call the customer service line for your account and ask if there are programs you can apply for to modify your loans or seek other assistance. Just make sure the new agreement you make is possible with your budget.

Take Charge of Your Debt

The worst thing you can do is ignore debt you owe. It won’t go away, and things get progressively worse for your credit history and score when you let them fester. So, check out your free Credit Report Card today to see where your credit is falling short and start looking for ways you can realistically handle debts that you owe to improve your credit in the future.


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Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents

If you’re part of the sandwich generation, having a money management plan is crucial.

Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to consider—sports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.

Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.

“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.

The “sandwich generation”—which describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parents—is growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.

Budgeting tips for the sandwich generation include communicating with parents.

When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?

The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:

Communicate with parents

Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.

First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.

Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.

17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.

– The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Involve kids in financial discussions

While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.

With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.

When figuring out how to budget for the sandwich generation, try including your kids in financial decisions.

If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.

The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.

Talking over expectations—yours and theirs—can help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.

Consider the impact of caregiving on your income

When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.

Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”

– Quentara Costa, certified financial planner

When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.

Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.

“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”

Keep saving in sight

One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”

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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each month—even if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budget—can help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.

When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.

Ask for help if you need it

A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.

Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.

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