Warning: A “Charge Off” On Your Credit Report Does NOT Mean You Don’t Owe It

It happened again this week. The client comes into the consultation smiling broadly. He just needs help with a loan modification, he argues. He doesn’t have any other debts. “Look,” he says, pointing at his credit report, “it’s been charged off!”

Sorry, that’s not what it means. A “charge off” is an accounting entry by the lender declaring that the debt is uncollectible, a determination that helps the lender deduct it as a loss against his taxes.

The “charged-off” account is still a live debt of the borrower until such time as the statute of limitations runs out and that can vary from three to seven years and depends also on the type of debt. In this area — Maryland and the District of Columbia — you will need to check the law in the jurisdiction in which you reside.

So, remember, you are still “on the hook.” In fact, many of these debts are sold to debt investors at a large discount, such as Portfolio Recovery Services, Midland Funding, Portfolio Recovery, or LVNV Funding who make it a business to recover on this stuff via lawsuits and other means.

Also, it may be more harmful on your credit report as a “charge off” than actually eliminating all legal liability and having it read “discharged in bankruptcy.”

One of the factors a mortgage lender takes into account when deciding on whether to grant a borrower a loan modification is that borrower’s “back end” ratio. Too much other, non-home-related debt, such as charged-off, but still live debt, can nix the modication.

So don’t rest easy just yet. Consult an attorney knowledgeable about debt issues, and see what the options are to deal with this.

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