If you’ve taken a glance at your credit score recently, you might notice that it’s lower than it ought to be. Unfortunately, the credit bureaus aren’t always as rigorous as you’d like, which can result in inaccurate line items, old debt still affecting your credit score, and other problems.
When you take a closer look at your credit report, you might notice that debt charge-offs are still present and dragging down your credit score, even after seven years (when they should be long gone). If you notice a charge-off on your credit report after seven years, good news – there's a way to get that charge-off removed once and for all.
Put simply, a charge-off is an old debt that the originating company – that is, the creditor or lender to whom you owe the debt – no longer expects to collect.
For example, say that you have a very old utility bill for $50 that you forgot to pay over a year ago. Rather than continuing to send you debt reminder letters or get collection companies to call you, the utility company writes off the debt and marks it as a charge-off when they report your financial activity to the credit bureaus.
Debts are usually charged off between 90 and 180 days past their due dates. They’re also usually charged off only if the debtor hasn’t made any payment toward the debt in that timespan. Partial payments may convince a creditor that the debtor will eventually pay off the full owed sum.
Not legally, but it’s a good idea to do so. Charged off debt might not be at the top of your priorities list, but it’s still a negative line item on your credit report.
If you leave charged off debt to fester for years, it will drag down your credit score and make it harder for you to qualify for excellent loans, open up new lines of credit, and continue to do business with the original lender/creditor.
Once you pay charged off debt, the penalty to your credit score decreases, and you'll have an easier time building up your credit score to a higher value.
Like many other debts and other negative line items, charged off debt should leave your credit report after seven years. So, if you have a charged off debt line item marked for May 1, 2021, that line item should vanish from your credit reports on May 1, 2028. Just remember that the seven-year clock starts when the debt is marked as “charged off,” not when the debt is first issued.
From time to time, the big credit bureaus, which include Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, can make mistakes and fail to remove old debt line items from your credit reports. That includes charge-offs.
Therefore, you might look at your credit report and expect to see everything neat and tidy. However, you find an old charge-off line item dated longer than seven years ago. Even if the debt is old, it can still have a negative effect on your credit report and FICO score.
If a charge-off is still on your credit report after seven years (regardless of whether you paid off the debt or didn’t), it’s bad. Even a very old charge-off can lead to negative credit score growth over time, especially if you are struggling with other credit score challenges like new debts or bankruptcy.
Fortunately, you can remove a charge-off from your credit report in two scenarios:
The process for removing a bad charge-off from your credit report is the same in both cases, so you can follow the below two steps no matter what.
First, download a credit dispute letter template online and fill it out accurately. A credit dispute letter is an official complaint that you send to the credit bureau(s) of your choice. This is your right as a consumer according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
But remember – each credit bureau has its own process and creates its own credit report. Therefore, you need to look through each credit report from the big three credit bureaus and identify whether the charge-off error is on each. Then, you’ll need to send a separate letter to each credit bureau with a bad line item.
Remember to change the information, such as the credit report number, on each dispute letter so the credit bureau’s staff can find your information quickly and easily.
Then you’ll need to wait for a response from the credit bureau(s) you sent a letter to. This normally takes anywhere between 15 and 45 days, but it can take longer.
If the credit bureau notices and agrees with the error, they should remove it shortly thereafter. Be sure to check your credit reports regularly to check your new credit score.
If the credit bureau(s) in question don’t remove the inaccurate charge-off line items, they might be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and you might be entitled to compensation.
To recap, a debt charge-off is an old debt that the creditor has decided it will no longer try to collect. Since charged off debt can still drag on your credit score, you should try to repay it if possible. But once seven years pass, the debt should be gone from your credit report.
If you still notice a charge-off on your credit report after seven years, write a dispute letter to the credit bureaus with the inaccurate charge-offs. That's the best way to get them to notice the problem and remove the inaccurate line items ASAP.