What is a Charge-Off? Timeline, Credit Impacts & Tips for Recovery

What Is A Charge Off

A charge-off occurs when a company believes you will probably not pay back the money you owe on a credit card or loan. They mark this debt as “charged-off,” and typically occurs after 180 days of nonpayment. However, this doesn’t mean you no longer owe the money, you still need to pay it back, and there could be legal consequences.

Below we’ll explore the charge-off timeline, credit impacts, regulations, and tips for avoiding future charge-offs.

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Understanding the Charge-Off Process

When you borrow money through loans or credit cards, the lender expects you to pay it back in one or more installments (payments). If you stop making payments, the lender may eventually decide you are unlikely to pay back what you owe. 

This decision leads to the charge-off process, although you still owe the money you borrowed. Your credit report may show an I9 code, meaning an installment credit charge-off, or an R9 code, indicating a revolving credit charge-off. 

Although, a charge-off doesn’t happen right away. There is a timeline lenders that report to the credit bureaus must follow before they can legally report a charged-off debt.

Missed Payments and Lender Correspondence

There are tiers of lateness, and lenders typically wait 180 days before charging off your debt. This interval lets you catch up on payments, which is important because a charge-off will damage your credit score.

late payment graphic

Each lender has its own rules about charge-offs. They usually consider how many times you didn’t pay on time and the odds that you will catch up on your payments. Lenders monitor your payments to decide if and when to charge you off. 

You’ll probably hear from your creditor during the months leading up to a charge-off. It will send you notices, possibly by mail, email, or phone calls, to remind you of your missed payments and what will happen to you if you don’t fork over the cash.

It’s best to explain your financial problems and work out a plan to make things right. Look for solutions such as lower payments that can help you avoid a charge-off.

Regulatory Requirements and Disclosures

The government sets rules that tell lenders how they need to manage charge-offs.

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) makes sure creditors only share correct details about charge-offs with credit reporting bureaus. 
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) also helps ensure that lenders treat all people the same during the charge-off process. Lenders must tell you before they charge off your debt. They send a written warning that they will charge off your account soon.
  • The Truth in Lending Act (TILA) requires lenders to explain their charge-off policies when you first get credit.

Each state can have its own rules about charge-offs. These rules may require lenders to give more notice or wait longer before they can charge an account. Knowing the specific laws in your state can help you exercise your rights.

Financial Implications for the Lender

When a lender charges off a debt, his action records the debt as a loss, indicating it no longer expects to receive that money.

They take a profit and loss charge-off for tax purposes, which impacts their earnings reports and may make their financial health appear weaker. However, clearing these unpaid debts from their books helps them manage their finances better and focus on more dependable borrowers. Remember, you still own the money even after the charge-off.

Credit Report and Credit Score Impacts

A charge-off can do a number on your credit reports. This part of your financial record shows how well you manage borrowing and paying back money.

How Credit Bureaus Record Charge-Offs

Credit bureaus list a charge-off on your credit report as a negative item. It clearly shows that there was a debt you did not pay back as expected. A charge-off is a warning to other lenders about your payment history.

A charge-off can stay on your credit report for seven years. This period starts from the date you first missed a payment leading up to the charge-off. Having this in your report for so long can make it harder to get new credit. It may also hurt your prospects for landing a job or renting an apartment.

credit bureau logos
Credit bureaus include charge-offs on consumer credit reports.

Your credit report will show the charged-off debt as “Paid” if you repay it after the charge-off. That’s better than an unpaid charge-off because it shows future lenders that you have settled your debts. 

However, the record of the charge-off itself will remain in your report for the full seven years, though a paid charge-off looks better than an unpaid one.

Some credit repair services try to remove charge-offs from your credit reports if they are inaccurate. You can also dispute charge-offs yourself if you feel they are incorrect or unfair.

You may be able to make a deal called a “pay-to-delete” settlement with the company you owe money to. It may agree to remove the charge-off from your credit report if you pay some or all of what you owe. But the lender is under no obligation to do so.

charge-off verification items
Verify the creditor’s name, dates, balance, account number, names of relevant parties, and payment history before disputing a charge-off. Source: Lexington Law.

It can help improve your credit score when it works, but make sure you get the agreement in writing before paying up.

Impact On Your Credit Scores

A charge-off lowers your credit scores because it tells lenders that you failed to pay back a debt as agreed. This negative mark screams, “High Risk!” to lenders, which can make them shy about offering you credit in the future.

Compared to other negative marks, such as 30- or 60-day late payments, a charge-off is one of the most damaging. It suggests a serious financial problem, bigger than just a few late payments. In short, it can really cripple your credit score, particularly if you had good credit before the charge-off appeared.

In the short term, a charge-off can severely lower your credit scores. That is true of any negative credit report entries — the damage is at its peak in the beginning and lessens over time.

But over time, its impact may lessen even further if you take steps to improve your credit, such as paying down existing debts and making future payments on time. 

However, as long as the charge-off remains on your credit report, it can continue to affect your ability to get new credit, even though its mojo diminishes as it ages.

Effect on Future Borrowing

Lenders look at your credit reports when you want to borrow money or open a credit card. Creditors want to see how you’ve managed money in the past, which is reflected in your credit scores.

They are a predictor of your likelihood to repay your debts. Lenders may think you won’t pay back what you borrow if they find a charge-off in your reports, which will likely make them less likely to lend to you.

credit score categories

Trying to get new credit can be hard if you have a charge-off because you likely have a fair or worse credit score. Lenders may say no to your application or offer you credit only at very high interest rates. This means borrowing money may cost you a lot more than someone with good or excellent credit.

It’s still possible to get credit even with a charge-off on your report, but it’s tougher. It would help if you looked for lenders and credit card issuers that accept people with lower credit scores. Sometimes, you have to prove you have a good job or enough money saved up to pay back what you want to borrow.

You can get credit more easily if you post collateral. For example, you can get many secured credit cards even with terrible credit.

The magic lies in the security deposit, which guarantees your credit limit. You can also apply for secured loans in which you put up cash or property as collateral.

3 Recommendations for Avoiding Charge-Offs

Avoiding a charge-off is important because it keeps your credit reports clean and makes borrowing money easier in the future. Let’s look at how you can stay on top of your payments and avoid charge-offs.

1. Make Timely Payments 

To ensure timely payments, always check the due dates.

  • You can write the dates on a calendar or make a schedule on your phone or computer.
  • Try to pay your bills as soon as you get your paycheck so you don’t spend the money on something else.
  • Using tools like apps or bank services can help you remember to pay your bills.

For example, you can use personal financial software such as Quicken to automate your payments. Many banks offer an auto-pay feature, which takes money from your account to pay your bills on their due dates. This way, you can make payments without remembering to do so.

Think about stories of people who successfully manage their bills. Some set up a budget and stick to it, making sure they always have enough for important bills. Others collaborate with a financial advisor to plan their spending. These examples show that with a good plan, you may be able to pay all your bills on time, avoid charge-offs, and build credit.

2. Negotiate With Creditors if You Fall Behind

It’s important to talk to your creditors right away if you start falling behind on payments. Tell them you’re having trouble but want to keep making payments. Show them you’re serious about managing your debts.

When you talk to your creditors, you can ask for breaks that include more time to pay your bills or smaller payments for a while. You can also request they lower the amount of interest you have to pay. This can make your payments easier to manage.

Many people have successfully negotiated with their creditors. For example, someone may have gotten an extra six months to pay off a bill, or another person may have reduced their monthly payment by half.

Successful negotiations help you keep up with payments and can prevent a charge-off. It is in both parties’ best interests to work out a deal so the lender doesn’t lose its money and you don’t incur credit score damage.

You can find first-hand stories about debt relief options in online forums such as Reddit (in the /Debt and /PersonalFinance subreddits). You can also ask questions or seek advice from the appropriate online sources.

3. Have a Solid Financial Plan

Making a budget is vital if you want to avoid charge-offs. Knowing how much money you have and where it must go each month will ensure you have enough to cover your bills. This disciplined approach will help you stay up to date on payments and keep your credit in good shape.

You can talk to a financial advisor or credit counselor if you need help managing your money. These professionals can advise you on how to better manage your finances, help you plan for big expenses, and find ways to save money.

There are also many resources, including books, websites , and classes that teach you about managing money. Learning more about how debt works can help you make smarter choices. 

What Happens After a Charge-Off

Creditors always remember that they charged off your account. They may try to collect the debt themselves or sell it to a debt collection agency. Collections start a new phase where you need to manage aggressive agents trying to recover the money you owe.

Debt Collection Attempts

Collection agencies must follow certain rules on how and when they can contact you. They cannot harass you or call at unreasonable hours, such as early in the morning or late at night. They must also explain the amount you owe and name the creditor.

You have specific rights to protect against unfair debt collection practices. Debt collectors cannot use abusive language, threaten you with illegal actions, or lie about who they are. You also have the right to request that they stop calling you by sending a formal written request.

debt collection attempt graphic

Remain calm and understand your rights when dealing with debt collectors. Always request proof of the debt in writing before you agree to pay anything. You can also try to negotiate with them to settle the debt for less than what you owe or arrange a payment plan. If it all becomes too much, consider getting help from a credit counselor or legal advisor.

If You File For Bankruptcy

You must list any charged-off debts when you file for bankruptcy. Even though charge-offs mean the lender doesn’t expect to get the money back, you legally still owe it.

Filing for bankruptcy can wipe out charged-off debts. You won’t have to pay back those specific debts anymore. However, the record of the charge-off and the bankruptcy will remain on your credit reports and can hurt your credit score. 

Think about the consequences before you decide to file for bankruptcy. Understand that bankruptcy can help you get rid of your debts, but it also stays on your credit reports for up to 10 years and can be costly.

maximum time negative items stay on credit reports table

This scar on your record can make it difficult to get new credit. It’s a good idea to talk to a financial advisor and a lawyer to help you decide if bankruptcy is your best option.

Legal Action by Lenders

A lender may decide to sue you if you stop paying your debts and all other attempts to collect the money fail. They sue to force you to pay back what you owe. This legal action usually occurs after they try contacting you multiple times and charge off your account. The more you owe, the more likely the lender is to take legal action.

The legal process starts with you receiving a court notice. You must respond to this notice, usually by attending a court hearing. If the court rules against you, you may have to pay the debt, legal fees, and possibly more. The court may also garnish your wages, where part of your paycheck goes directly toward paying off your debt.

It’s important to respond properly when a creditor sues you. First, you should verify that the debt is yours and the amount is correct. You can then present your case in court. It’s a good idea to use a lawyer who can help you understand your options and rights. Sometimes, you can settle the debt outside of court by negotiating with the lender.

How to Rehabilitate Your Finances

It’s important to start fixing your finances if you’ve faced financial challenges such as charge-offs. Rehabilitating your credit will help you gain control and improve your credit score over time.

Start Rebuilding Your Credit

To begin improving your credit after a charge-off, check your credit report to make sure all the information is correct.

instructions for checking credit reports

Then, focus on paying any existing debts. It would help if you also tried to keep your credit card balance low and pay all your bills on time. These actions can gradually improve your credit scores.

Keeping your accounts in good standing is crucial for credit repair. Make sure you manage these accounts responsibly by paying on time and not overusing your credit. Show lenders that you can manage your finances well.

Opening new credit accounts can also help rebuild your credit score, but you must be cautious. Making timely payments and opening new accounts adds good data to your credit report. 

However, don’t open too many new accounts too quickly. Choose your new credit carefully and manage it well to rebuild your credit score over time.

Consider Debt Consolidation or Management

Debt consolidation combines all your different debts into one single loan with one monthly payment. It makes it easier to keep track of your debts. Simplifying your payment process may also prevent further charge-offs.

You should consider getting a consolidation loan if you have multiple debts with high interest rates and find it difficult to keep up with different payments. Consolidation can lower your overall monthly payments and sometimes reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Pros and Cons of Consolidation

Debt consolidation has several advantages, and you should consider whether it fits your situation. But before proceeding, it’s important to understand the possible drawbacks.


  • Simplifies your payments: One payment instead of several.
  • Can reduce interest rates: Lower your overall interest costs.
  • Prevents further damage to your credit score: By making it easier to manage payments and avoid late or missed payments


  • May lead to more debt: If you’re not careful, you might use the freed-up credit to charge more debt.
  • Longer payment terms: You may end up paying off your debt over a longer period. This can increase the total interest you pay.
  • You need good credit for the best terms: The best consolidation loans have lower interest rates and require good credit scores.

You may be able to consolidate credit card debt through a series of balance transfers if you can get a new card with an introductory 0% APR. Even if you can’t qualify for such a card, perhaps your lowest-interest card offers balance transfers. Remember to take transfer fees into account, and look to your local credit unions for the best deals.

Seek Financial Counseling

Credit counseling is a service that helps you oversee your money better by offering advice and creating a plan to tackle your financial problems. It can help you manage your debt, develop a budget, and educate you about finances. It may reduce your stress and help you make better financial decisions.

When choosing a credit counselor, look for someone affiliated with a reputable organization. Check their certification and reviews. Many counseling organizations are free, but always make sure you understand the costs. Don’t let them pressure you for payments.

Many people who have used credit counseling services successfully reduce their debt, avoid bankruptcy, and improve their credit scores. Success stories often include people who, through counseling, consolidated their payments, learned better spending habits, and regained control over their finances.

Understanding How Charge-Offs Occur Can Help You Avoid Them

If you want to manage your finances better, you need to understand how charge-offs occur. By knowing the signs and steps that lead to charge-offs, you can act early to prevent them. 

Staying on top of your payments and talking with lenders can keep your credit score from plummeting. Ultimately, staying up to date with your financial obligations helps you avoid the pain of charge-offs.