In this article:
A charge-off—an entry in your credit report that indicates a lender has given up trying to collect a debt you owe them—is a serious negative event in your credit history that remains on your credit report for seven years.
What Is a Charge-Off?
A charge-off appears on your credit report when a creditor, after trying and failing to get you to repay a debt, abandons hope of collecting what's owed and closes your account. A charge-off is a derogatory entry in your credit report—a serious negative event—and can bring down your credit scores and limit your eligibility to get new loans or credit.
A charge-off does not forgive the debt. You are still legally obligated to pay the amount owed. Creditors often sell debts connected to charged-off accounts to collections agencies. If they do, the outstanding balance listed in the charge-off entry on your credit report changes to $0, and a new collections entry appears on your credit report, listing the outstanding balance. This indicates you must deal with the collections agency instead of the original lender to settle the debt.
How Much Does a Charge-Off Affect Your Credit Score?
As with any other negative entry on your credit report, the number of credit score points a charge-off will cost you depends on the scoring system used (FICO® Score* or VantageScore®, for instance), what your score was before the entry appeared and how many other negative entries already appear on your credit report.
The appearance of a charge-off on your credit report might not actually lower your score by much, but only because you would have have acquired many other negative entries on the way to getting a charge-off. The charge-off itself is simply the cherry on top. Late and missed payments do more damage to your credit scores than any other single factor: The first payment that's 30 days late often has the most significant impact, and your score suffers more every month the bill remains unpaid. Since a charge-off typically appears after six consecutive months of score reductions due to missed payments, your score may be so degraded by then that there aren't a lot of points left to lose.
How to Remove a Charge-Off
A charge-off stays on your credit report for seven years after the date the account in question first went delinquent. (If the charge-off first appears after six months of delinquency, it will remain on your credit report for six and a half years.) There is nothing you can do to get a legitimate charge-off entry removed from your credit report.
If a charge-off is reported inaccurately, or if it fails to "fall off" your credit report after seven years, you can file a dispute with Experian or one of the other national credit bureaus to have it removed from your credit reports.
The negative effects a charge-off has on your credit score will fade over time, so it may be possible to rebuild your credit score considerably during the time that a charge-off remains on your credit report—a pursuit that's well worth the effort. Even as your credit scores increase, however, you may find that some lenders consider the presence of a charge-off on a credit report a deal-breaker when it comes to issuing loans or credit—a situation that will ease once the charge-off disappears from your credit report. For this reason alone, a charge-off is something you should make every effort to avoid.