Charge Offs: All is Not Forgiven

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Part of what I do as a mortgage originator is review credit reports. I’m often surprised how many consumers think that a debt that has been charged off means that it has been removed from their credit history or “forgiven”. Basically, a charge off is when the creditor is writing the debt off their books for tax purposes, it is not terminating the debt owed by the borrower. Often times, the charge off may turn into a collection or be sold or assigned to a collection agency and therefore, mortgage lenders will view a charge off on a credit report as a collection.

I while ago, “Betty Bellevue” called me to see if she could help her mom obtain a mortgage. A couple years prior, her mom had a car that she “gave back” to the bank. She thought she would only have a “repo” reflected on her credit report and that enough time had passed to where she might qualify for a mortgage. What she didn’t realize is that even though the bank had the car back, she had a “charge off” for the balance of the car loan on her credit and that for purposes of a mortgage, we would treat it as a collection (it would need to be paid off and removed from the credit report).

Distressed home owners with second mortgages may be surprised to find charge offs on their credit report following a short sale. Borrowers are often caught completely off guard by this remaining damaging debt being reflected on their credit report. Depending on how the lender reports the short sale to the credit bureaus, it may be just as detrimental as a foreclosure. If you are considering a short sale or foreclosure, I strongly recommend you find an attorney who specializes in dealing with this type of situation.  Linda Ferrarri has great information on her credit blog about foreclosures and short sales which I highly recommend if you find yourself facing this situation.

A charge off also dramatically impacts credit scores. Once a charge off, or collection is paid, credit scores will initially drop as the credit scoring modules view it as a “new activity” on the borrowers credit. Eventually scores should recover and improve. If you are considering a mortgage and have charge offs or collections, it’s important to discuss how and when you’re going to pay them off (some can be paid at closing which will prevent your scores from tanking during the mortgage process).  

You can obtain a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Washington State’s DFI (Department of Financial Institutions) guide for home owners who are considering a short sale and Foreclosure Help.

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