It's true a charge-off does hurt your credit, but not as much as you might think. Unfortunately, that's because most of the damage has already been done by the late payments leading to the charge-off. FICO, the company that produces the credit-scoring software used by credit bureaus, states that late payments account for 35 percent of your credit score. FICO also estimates that a 30-day late payment drops a midrange credit score -- around 680 -- by 60 to 80 points. Paying late damages an excellent credit score -- about 780 -- even more, causing it to decline 90 to 110 points.
What a Charge-off Is
When banks lend money or extend credit, the debt shows up on their accounting books as an asset. It has a positive financial value. If loans or credit cards go unpaid, the debts gradually lose value as an asset. Eventually, the Internal Revenue Service makes the bank take the loan off its books. At this point, the bank or lender charges off, or removes, the loan as an asset. It also reports the charge-off to the credit reporting companies.
Your credit score can range from 300 to 850. Four other factors affect your score in addition to payment history. These include amounts owed (30 percent), length of credit history (15 percent), new credit (10 percent) and types of credit used (10 percent). If your score is higher than 680, it's considered good to excellent. As it continues to move below 680, it declines from average to bad. If you need to raise your score, focus first on the scoring factors that impact your score the most.
Charge-offs and Scoring
A charge-off results when you fail to make your credit card or loan payment on time. The point at which the lender charges off the debt is based on accounting regulations. Other than making a payment, there’s nothing you can do to extend the time frame. Typically, a credit card account charges off after you fall six months, or 180 days, behind on your payments. Even though the lender reports your late payments to the credit agencies, the account doesn't show as charged off until this point. So as the account goes from 30 to 60 to 90 to 120 days late, your score suffers a little more each month. By the time it reaches the charge-off point, it decreases a little more.
Paying a Charge-off
If you pay off a charged-off debt, you'll see little, if any, positive impact on your score right away. However, you should do your best to pay it off if you can. This sends a positive signal to future lenders. As time goes by, the late payments and charge-off have less of an impact on your credit score. After 24 months, the effect is considerably less. So the best payment strategy is to pay the most recent delinquent accounts or charge-offs -- those less than two years old -- before tackling the older ones. In fact, all charge-offs automatically fall off your report seven years from the date of the charge-off.
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