What It Means When a Debt Is Charged Off

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What It Means When a Debt Is Charged Off

By |September 20th, 2012|

You’re in debt, past due and struggling to make a payment. The creditor calls and tells you that if you don’t pay soon, the debt will be charged off. Is it about to get worse, or are things looking bright?

It all depends on your goal. For many of my clients, a charged-off debt is great news. For others, it signals bad times to come.

Here’s the lowdown.

Understanding The Meaning Of A Charged-Off Debt

At any point, a creditor may decide to charge off a debt. All that means is that the creditor makes a declaration that the debt is unlikely to be collected – not that it’s somehow no longer owed. Federal regulations require creditors to charge-off installment loans after 120 days of delinquency, while revolving credit accounts must be charged-off after 180 days.

Once a debt is charged off, it is no longer carried on the creditor’s financial books as an asset of the company. At that point, the debt becomes an expense or a loss to the creditor.

After the debt is charged-off, you still owe the money. It’s an accounting method, and nothing more.

The Credit Reporting Impact Of A Charged-Off Debt

The creditor will report the charged-off debt on your credit report. It’s worse than being simply past due because it indicates that you’re far behind on payments and couldn’t work things out with the creditor within a few months.

Your credit score will take a hit, and you’ll need to resolve the account in order to bring your score back up.

For A Deeper Dive Into Credit Reports, Check Out:

The Collection Landscape

Remember, the debt remains collectible after it is charged-off. The creditor will usually sell the debt at this point, however; the amount due is stated as a loss on the accounting records, and the sale of the debt to another company will help balance out some of the losses.

Debt buyers can be a mixed bag, purchasing debt for as little as $0.20 for every $1.00 owed. If you’re in a position to settle a particular debt, doing so after it has been charged-off may give you a better result.

You’ll have to deal with the tax implications of debt settlement, but for some situations it makes the most sense.

If you’re not in a position to settle, however, debt buyers can be more prone to scare tactics and potentially abusive behavior.

As the account becomes less likely to be collectively, less savory types will buy the debt in the hopes of making a quick buck. Their methods may be effective, but it’s also more likely to cross the line into illegal debt collection harassment.

Filing Bankruptcy With Charged-Off Debts

Lots of my clients think there’s a difference in their bankruptcy options if their debts have been charged-off. There isn’t. Filing bankruptcy is going to be the same no matter what the status of your unsecured debt may be.

If you’re filing bankruptcy under Chapter 13, however, the fact that your debt has been charged-off and sold to a debt buyer may be cause for extra vigilance. If a debt buyer files a Proof of Claim in order to get paid through your Chapter 13 Plan, they will need to provide proof that you owe the debt as well as the fact that they are the proper people to get paid and the balance is correct.

Debt buyers who file Proofs of Claims in Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases often don’t have this information at the ready, which means you may have the ability to object to them getting paid at all in your case.

Half Full Or Half Empty

Whether you’re looking at a charged-off debt as a good thing or not, it’s important to take away a few things:

  1. you still owe the money even after the account charge off occurs;
  2. collection will not stop;
  3. settlement is an option, though there are consequences;
  4. talking with me is better than going it alone and ending up in a worse situation.


About the Author:

I've been a consumer protection lawyer since 1995, working to help people end their bill problems. I'm a faculty member at the Student Loan Law Workshop, a nationally recognized speaker, and a long-time member of both the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.