How to Remove Charge Offs

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A woman is looking at a past due bill.
A woman is looking at a past due bill. (Image: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Your credit report contains a summary of your borrowing habits, including account history, payments and charge-offs. Like foreclosures and repossessions, charge-offs are negative events that can seriously hurt your credit score. You can undo some of the damage by settling the account with your lender. However, settling an account is one thing, but removing a charge off from your credit report is another matter altogether.

Charged Off Accounts

Lenders classify loans and credit cards as assets, because you're obligated to pay off any balance you owe before closing the account and your interest payments produce income for the lender. If you stop making payments, that income source comes to an end. An account is written off if a bank or lender concedes that it's unlikely the debt will be repaid. The term "charge off" is used to describe the removal of the account from the banks' list of assets. Charged off accounts often are sold to collection agencies that attempt to collect the debt. Banks also can charge off deposit accounts if you are overdrawn and can't or won't bring the account back into the positive.

Credit Reports

You can pay down charged off accounts, or negotiate a settlement with your lender or the collection agency. When you do this, the credit bureaus update your credit report to show the debt has been paid. Unfortunately, the charge off remains on your report as "paid" or "settled" for up to seven years. The fact that you've settled it should boost your credit score but it doesn't erase details of the charge off from your credit report. You can't remove a legitimately reported charge off, you just have to wait it out.

Credit Disputes

Lenders and credit bureaus sometimes make mistakes. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must remove erroneous charge offs from your account. However, it's your responsibility to monitor your report and to begin the removal process. You must clearly identify the disputed accounts and explain why the information is inaccurate. For example, you could provide receipts to show that all your payments were made on time. Aside from disputing the information, you must ask the credit bureau to remove the charge off from your report.

Correction Process

All three of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion accept credit disputes online. The latter two also accept disputes via mail. It generally takes about 30 days to receive a response. You can try to expedite the process by simultaneously disputing the account with the lender or collection agency in question. Credit bureaus are compelled to address disputes unless they are "frivolous" or without merit. The more supporting documentation you provide, the better. In many states, you're entitled to a free credit report once a dispute has been resolved. As a best practice, you should regularly review your credit report so you can quickly rectify errors and omissions.

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